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Tobacco Smugglers are Helping Terrorists: WHO

Following a trend set by drug traffickers, a new breed of tobacco smugglers is aiding terrorist outfits and India too could be affected soon, a top official //of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

"We know that international drug cartels have some links with terrorists but now proofs are emerging of illegal tobacco smugglers' links with terrorist outfits. Security agencies in the European Union (EU) have made considerable progress in investigating such cases," said Douglas Bettcher, coordinator of the framework convention team of WHO's tobacco free initiative.

"I would say that the EU is the worst sufferer at this point but any country including India could soon be a victim of this new development," Bettcher told IANS on the sidelines of Global Youth Meet on Health here Thursday.

Though the exact size of this illicit trade was yet to be ascertained, "we estimate that at least 350 billion cigarette sticks are now being smuggled every month across the world," the official said.

Apart from the EU, China, Brazil and Bhutan are some of the countries where tobacco smuggling is quite rampant, he said.

"With terrorism spreading its tentacles, the new development is startling and dangerous as well. Europol (the European Law Enforcement Organisation) is tracking such developments," said Bettcher.

Besides their terrorist links, the smugglers did not pay any taxes on smuggled goods, which are sold away cheaply in the grey market - on many an occasion without necessary health warnings.

"It brings a huge loss to the industry apart from damaging the public health.

"There are currently 1.3 billion addicted smokers across the globe of which five million die every year," he said, adding that more than 800,000 people die due to tobacco related diseases in India.

The expert said that a blanket ban on manufacturing tobacco products worldwide is not the solution.
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