Duty Free Cigarettes, Tobacco & Cigars

tax free cigarsOnce upon a time buying tobacco products (eg cigarettes, cigars, pipe and rolling tobacco etc) in duty free was very straightforward. You went into the relevant shop, chose your favourite brand, and bought your carton of 200 or pack of five at a massively reduced price compared to the local market. If you lived in high duty countries, like the UK, the price savings were even better! It really was what buying whilst travelling was all about.

If you’re travelling outside the European Union (that includes travellers starting their journey within it) then duty free tobacco benefits still apply; but for those remaining within the UK and EU (flying from London Gatwick to Malaga, for example), all duty free sales have been abolished since 1999. This is why you may notice a two tier price structure for cigarettes, cigars etc in airports within the UK and EU – one duty free, one duty paid. Some airports simply don’t sell tobacco products at all to intra-EU passengers and its unlikely you’ll find any for sale inflight.

Having said that, the sale of duty free tobacco is still big, big business. It is a huge revenue earner for governments (although they rarely shout about it) and a huge pleasure to the millions worldwide who enjoy smoking. The variety of brands and the choice of strengths and flavours has never been so varied. So take advantage of the duty free prices, there are still fabulous bargains to be had – whether you stick with your usual brand or use the opportunity to trade up to a premium make such as Davidoff.

Look out for special packs that are exclusive to duty free and/or the airport in question, or new presentations/products being launched initially only at airports – such as Vogue’s Ephemère line, plus onpack promotions, competitions and free gifts as further incentives to buy.

There are other long term threats to tobacco sales in duty free, most notably from WHO (World Health Organisation) which has been trying to ban sales off and on for years. Back in 2005, 150 countries ratified the WHO’s Framework Convention for Tobacco Control which requires countries to impose further restrictions on the sale, promotion and movement of tobacco products. Measures suggested may include: ‘Prohibiting or restricting as appropriate, sales to and/or importations by international travellers of tax- and duty-free tobacco products.’

To date none of the 150 countries that have ratified the FCTC have decided to ban duty free tobacco sales • the category is too important. But they could – at any time. If you feel strongly about it, you should write to your local MP. Currently the industry is hoping for an exemption in UK duty free from the forthcoming ban on the open display of tobacco in England and Wales – there really is an ongoing fight to maintain tobacco sales in duty free regionally and globally.

One word of warning. Do check what your tobacco import allowances are, wherever you are travelling to. You may be surprised. Singapore, for example, withdrew duty-free privileges on tobacco products, including cigarettes, back in 1991 as part of its strategy to curb smoking.

Travellers who have small quantities of cigarettes or tobacco products are, therefore, required to declare them at Customs. The goods may be brought into Singapore only upon payment of Customs duty and Goods & Services Tax (GST). Ignore the law at your peril!

If you feel discriminated against as a smoker – well, in most airports you are, and long gone are the days of smoking inflight. Increasingly, though, the need to have that last smoke outside the terminal before you switch over to chewing gum is diminishing thanks to smoking lounges and stations at key international airports.

Japan Tobacco (Camel) has been the main instigator of smoking stations, aiming to provide smoking passengers with a relaxing environment in which to have a puff before boarding the plane. They now have lounges, smoking cabins and stations at 15 international airports including AthensBaliMoscowZurich, Kiev, Ho Chi Minh CityCasablanca, Marrakech, Frankfurt, Agadir and Geneva.

Other airports do make concessions to smokers, look out for the signs.