An Occasional Paper from RUSI on 17th October explores the exploitation of the internet and delivery services in relation to illicit tobacco and tobacco products. The research demonstrates that the growth of e-commerce and proliferation of postal and small parcel delivery services have had a significant impact on the trade in illicit tobacco products in many of the locations under consideration. Illicit tobacco products are now readily available to purchase with little effort and minimal risk – through online marketplaces, purpose-built hosted websites and social media platforms. Platforms such as Facebook appear to have become the primary medium through which illicit tobacco products are sold online, although online marketplace websites continue to be exploited. Evidence suggests that there are 2 distinct types of offender selling illicit tobacco products online:
- opportunist individual sellers with no links to organised crime; and
- organised criminals with international contacts, access to a steady supply of illicit products, and sophisticated distribution networks.
A related but often distinct problem is the exploitation of postal and delivery services to transport illicit tobacco products into and within Europe. The exploitation of the internet and delivery services to sell and transport illicit tobacco products in Europe are trends that are set to persist in the coming years. The trends examined in this paper suggest that a new generation of organised criminality is developing across Europe. One of the conclusions is that there is a need to strengthen information-sharing mechanisms between law enforcement agencies and other parts of the private sector.