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Stricter cigarette import laws see spike in overnight stays in Russia

Tobacco tourists heading to Russia are setting up with mobile homes and caravans, according to Customs officials, after new legislation that took effect in mid-August requires Finns to spend at least 24 hours outside Finland before they can import tobacco products for personal use.

Savukkeita Venäjältä.
Image: Tanja Perkkiö / Yle

Government moved earlier this year to crackdown on smoking by hiking taxes on cigarette products and introducing a minimum 24-hour stay for travellers who wish to import cigarettes for personal use from non-EU countries like Russia.

According to senior customs inspector Erkki Multamäki of the Niirala border crossing in eastern Finland, since stricter tobacco import laws came into force in mid-August, officials have begun to see an increasing number of recreational vehicles (RVs) and trailer caravans lining up at the border.

Upon closer inspection it emerged that many of the mobile home owners were bound for Russia in search of cigarette products.

Border officials were already used to Finns travelling across to Russia to replenish their personal cigarette inventories. However the new laws mean smokers are resorting to spending the night in their mobile homes to ensure that they can continue to take advantage of the personal cigarette allowance.

Mobile homes reduce overnight stay costs

New legislation came into force in August requiring a minimum 24-hour stay in a non-EU country before being eligible for the personal allowance of up to 200 cigarettes.

Finnish Customs believe that cigarette hunters are travelling to the eastern neighbour in their RVs to cut down on the cost of the overnight stays that would entitle them to import cheaper Russian cigarettes for personal use.

The Niirala public health centre has been trying to counter the attraction of cheaper products across the border with a public information blitz aimed at encouraging smokers to give up the habit.

Vesa Korpelainen, a public health expert from the Northern Karelia public health centre noted that it’s not just smokers making the overnight trips to stock up – many non-smokers are known to be importing cigarettes across the border.

Small-scale smuggling also rearing its head

Customs officials in Niirala said that during this autumn they have come across a higher number of cross-border travellers carrying single packets of cigarettes.

Multamäki said that people are slipping the packets into their pockets and feigning ignorance about laws governing the importation of cigarettes.

"The same people have been caught on several occasions," the customs officer added.

Multamäki explained that the new restrictions on personal cigarette imports have pushed up the street price of the product in Northern Karelia.

The current average price of a packet of 20 cigarettes in Finland is 7.50 euros, up from 5.50 euros. The price of a similar product in Russia can be as low as 1.64 euros.

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