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Average number of cigarettes smuggled per passenger continues to grow in first half of 2019 Around 1.7 million cigarettes seized from air travellers

Around 1.7 million cigarettes from 620 passengers – this is the statistic reported by the Eisenstadt Customs Office at Vienna Airport in terms of cigarettes confiscated from air travellers during the first half of 2019 thanks to the successful work undertaken by customs officers in securities clearance operations. This marks a continuation of a trend in air travel which first caught the attention of customs in 2015 and which has been rising annually ever since.

Cigarette seizures in Austria largely take place at Vienna Airport. After cigarettes totalling approximately 1.5 million were impounded in 2015, it became clear that ever increasing quantities of cigarettes were being smuggled in the luggage of air travellers, and this trend continued in the following years. Thus, in 2016, approximately 2.4 million cigarettes were seized, and in both 2017 and 2018 respectively, customs officers confiscated around 2.9 million smuggled cigarettes. Then, in the first half of 2019 too, customs officers at the Eisenstadt Customs Office based at Vienna Airport recorded a further increase of 1.6% on an already high statistic as compared with the first half of 2018 (1.66 million cigarettes impounded).

"I congratulate our customs officers on their recent successes in the fight against illegal cigarette smuggling. Through their excellent work and many years of experience, they are taking effective action against organised smuggling and, at European level, are also making an important contribution to the destruction of international smuggling networks," declared Finance Minister Eduard Müller, impressed by this achievement.

The impoundments which took place in 2019 reveal strikingly how, this year, Vienna Airport is being increasingly targeted as a final destination by smugglers, instead of largely serving as a point of transit as had previously been the case. Well over two thirds of the cigarettes seized by customs authorities from air passengers at Vienna Airport in 2019 were destined for Vienna. "With regard to smuggling cases, we are increasingly noting the choice of Vienna as the destination airport – presumably because, from Vienna, the smugglers are shifting their onward transportation routes for goods from air traffic to other forms of transport," is how Stefan Fleischhacker, head of the Eisenstadt Customs Office at Vienna Airport, analyses the changed behaviour of smugglers. The experience of customs agencies shows that successful work by the authorities does not go unnoticed by organised criminals, and that smuggling routes are therefore also adjusted accordingly.

Cigarette smuggling mostly has its source in Armenia, Russia or Ukraine. Alongside Vienna, other European cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Lyon, Copenhagen, Milan, Warsaw or Brussels constitute the principal destinations of smugglers operating in organised criminal structures.

As a result, Vienna Airport continues to be used as a transit point for onward travel and thus introduction of smuggled cigarettes into other European countries by air. In such cases, the results of Austrian investigations are often only brought to a conclusion in other EU Member States. "Through corresponding cooperation between the Eisenstadt Customs Office at Vienna Airport with the competent customs agencies at other European airports, our investigation work indeed knows no boundaries," declares Fleischhacker, proud of his team's work. "The aim is to identify those responsible as effectively as possible and to thwart smuggling," he continues. In this way, of the total number of cigarettes impounded, numbering approximately 1.7 million, around 530,000 cigarettes were seized at controls conducted at European airports on the basis of information provided by the Eisenstadt Customs Office at Vienna Airport.

Combating fraud in connection with cigarette smuggling

Investigations into cigarette smuggling at both national and international level form a focus of the work undertaken by the nationwide customs investigation teams. Combating fraud in this area is therefore an essential part of the work undertaken by the customs authorities. The risks to the consumer in consuming illegal tobacco imports cannot be underestimated, ranging from questionable production locations and methods to unknown ingredients and additives. And not least, through its commitment on a daily basis in the fight against contraband, the customs authorities are protecting honest economic operators both in Austria and the EU.