• 60'
  • Author : Corinne Langlois
  • 20-03-2021
  • Master : 3038


It’s a medal that France could well do without! The top step on the European podium for sales of contraband tobacco. In step with the rise in the price of a pack of cigarettes, the contraband market is exploding in the Hexagon! Today, one pack in four is bought from a peddler. This juicy market is the latest playground for criminal organizations. The traffickers’ motivation can be reduced to four words: “high returns, low risk”. To combat this trafficking, which costs France 3 billion Euros in annual tax receipts, the State is bringing up the heavy guns: for two years, customs, police, gendarmes and tobacconists have been on a war footing. In Marseille, Stephane is head of the “ciggy squad (UK)”. For two years, in the northern quarter station, a special anti-cigarette trafficking unit has been hunting the peddlers who are corrupting the city. The six officers in the unit are trying to hamper the peddlers with “a strategy of harassment”. “We arrest the street peddlers but they are soon released. We’ve had to adapt our strategy and aim higher.” In less than 5 years, criminal networks have industrialized the traditional “user-dealer” market that was flooding the city. At the Foix courthouse in Ariege, prosecutor Laurent Dumaine had no idea that his departement, the most sparsely populated in France, had become a hot-spot for cigarette trafficking. “Our court is the closest to Andorra, we’re a sort of sentinel. In order to break up these organisations we impose exemplary sentences, which can often mean a prison term.” In order to supply the black markets in Toulouse and Perpignan, dozens of smugglers cross the mountains on foot both day and night laden with bundles of cartons of cigarettes. It’s a real headache for customs officers, who pursue them over the snow-bound tracks at altitudes of 2,000m. In Andorra, police inspector Frederic is on a stake-out in the principality’s capital. French people are suspected of organizing large-scale trafficking with France. They are dangerous and known to the customs services in the Hexagon. This trafficking tarnishes the image of luxury tourism that Andorra wishes to present, but, by applying a policy of tax dumping on tobacco, the tiny country has become the cigarette “warehouse” for the traffickers. For tobacconists, the explosion in the sales of contraband cigarettes is a final assault on their profession. Patrick runs a tobacconist agency in Dunkirk. He’s always suffered from the proximity of Belgium, which sells cigarettes 30% cheaper than in France. For several months, the region has had to face a phenomenon that is affecting the whole of France. No longer any need to live on the border to buy tobacco at a lower cost: social networks have turned into illegal tobacconist agencies “they’re swarming over the net and, what’s more, they sell counterfeit cigarettes.”. For a year, alongside the forces of law and order, tobacconists and traffickers, both big and small, we investigated this lucrative market.

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