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Blog: Smoking Kills


Location: Washington, DC

This week, the Wall Street Journal reported on a European Union investigation into a tobacco company for possible sanctions violations.

A Swiss-based unit of an Asian tobacco company is peddling cigarettes to Syria. So what's the big deal? As they say, where there's smoke, there's fire.

The buyers are a firm owned by relatives of Syrian president Assad and the state-owned tobacco company. According to the Journal, the concern is that sales have "provided the [Syrian] regime with a cash infusion at a time of growing economic isolation, because the cigarettes could be resold for much more than they cost." The article reports the resale could have netted the regime over $100 million. Assad also is said to use the smokes as payment to the shabeeha (militias), fueling their daily massacres.

Terrorists seem to have a thing for the cigarette trade. The simple scheme of shifting cigarette sales from low-tax states to high-tax states has been a Hezbollah trick. In 2002, the U.S. successfully prosecuted two men in Charlotte, North Carolina for cigarette smuggling, with the profits going to Hezbollah. The operation reached into Canada, and involved Hezbollah's chief military procurement officer. Among the items purchased in Canada with the cigarette revenue and smuggled to Lebanon: night-vision goggles and global positioning systems. Equipment no doubt helpful as the "A-team" of terrorists continues to threaten neighboring Israel.

The North Korean criminal state is in the cigarette game too. According to a 2005 industry report, North Korea has between 10-12 plants producing about 2 billion counterfeit packs a year, earning $500 to $700 million. Some of the factories are owned by Chinese criminal gangs, others by the North Korean army. The counterfeit cigs aren't just sold in Asia, but have been aimed at the U.S. too -- as reveled by FBI sting operations Royal Charm and Smoking Dragon. Meanwhile, North Korea is expanding its nuclear weapons program by leaps and bounds.

All of this is to say there is more than health reasons to kick the habit.

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