Cigarette tax avoidance and evasion: findings from the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project

Jan 15, 2015

From: Tobacco Control

G. Emmanuel Guindon, Pete Driezen, Frank J. Chaloupka, and  Geoffrey T. Fong



Decades of research have produced overwhelming evidence that tobacco taxes reduce tobacco use and increase government tax revenue. The magnitude and effectiveness of taxes at reducing tobacco use provide an incentive for tobacco users, manufacturers and others, most notably criminal networks, to devise ways to avoid or evade tobacco taxes. Consequently, tobacco tax avoidance and tax evasion can reduce the public health and fiscal benefit of tobacco taxes.


First, this study aims to document, using data from the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (ITC), levels and trends in cigarette users’ tax avoidance and tax evasion behaviour in a sample of sixteen low-, middle- and high-income countries. Second, this study explores factors associated with cigarette tax avoidance and evasion.


We use data from ITC surveys conducted in 16 countries to estimate the extent and the type of cigarette tax avoidance/evasion between countries and across time. We use self-reported information about the source of a smoker’s last purchase of cigarettes or self-reported packaging information, or similar information gathered by the interviewers during face-to-face interviews to measure tax avoidance/evasion behaviours. We use generalized estimating equations (GEE) to explore individual-level factors that may affect the likelihood of cigarette tax avoidance or evasion in Canada, United States, United Kingdom and France.


We find prevalence estimates of cigarette tax avoidance/evasion vary substantially between countries and across time. In Canada, France and the United Kingdom, more than 10% of smokers report last purchasing cigarettes from low or untaxed sources while in Malaysia, some prevalence estimates suggest substantial cigarette tax avoidance/evasion. We also find important associations between household income and education and the likelihood to engage in tax avoidance/evasion. These associations, however, vary both in direction and magnitude across countries.

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