Background: By 2016, tobacco industry provided the only illicit trade estimates in Colombia and used these to discourage tax increases since the 1990s. To establish the viability of a threefold hike in the excise tax, policy makers needed unbiased estimates of the illicit cigarette.
Objective: To estimate the size of illicit cigarette trade in five Colombian cities (63% of the market), analyse characteristics of smokers of illicit cigarettes and compare market share results with one industry-funded survey.
Methods: Street cross-sectional survey with smokers' self-report on consumption pattern, last purchase information and direct observation of smoker's packs. Sampling frame: smokers, men and women, 12 years old or older, all income levels, resident in five Colombian cities (Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Cartagena and Cúcuta) with 1 733 316 smokers in 2013. Sample size 1697, simple random sample by city, sampling weights based on age groups and cities. Confidence level 95%, margin of error 3.5% for Bogotá and Medellín and 5% for the other three cities. Data collection period: 24 August-14 September 2016.
Results: Illicit cigarettes represent 3.5% of consumption in the five cities, a much lower estimate than the industry data. There are significant differences across cities, with Bogotá at the bottom (1.5%) and Cúcuta at the top (22.8%).
Conclusion: The low overall penetration of illicit cigarettes in Colombia indicates that the industry's warnings against tax increases are not justified. The limited importance of tax levels as determinant of consumption of illicit cigarettes is also suggested by the differences across cities, all of them with the same tax regime.
Keywords: Illegal Tobacco Products; Low/middle Income Country; Surveillance And Monitoring; Taxation.
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