Counterfeit cigarettes that were once a common sight in the stalls of street vendors are a significant source of revenue for the PKK terrorist group, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said Thursday.
The minister was speaking at a meeting in the capital Ankara to coordinate efforts for an efficient fight against smuggling.
"We dealt a big blow to this source of income. Bootleg cigarette packs seized in 2017 were more than 62.8 million in 2017 and it dropped to 26 million last year," he said, stressing that incessant operations against cigarette smugglers curbed the illegal trade. Soylu said authorities confiscated 6.5 million packs of bootleg cigarettes this year so far.
He noted a remarkable progress achieved in the fight against bootleg cigarettes, whose rate dropped to 1.4% by the end of 2018 from 22.3% in 2014. The bootleg cigarette market thrived as Turkey imposed steep taxes on cigarettes after a landmark indoors smoking ban in 2009 in its efforts for tobacco control and curb the number of smokers. Though low-grade and with less flavor than the original ones or cigarettes legally sold in Turkey, cheaper cigarettes smuggled from European and Asian countries, found a small market in the country.
The PKK terrorist group also relies on drug smuggling, the Interior Ministry says, as a profitable source of income. Minister Soylu says they increased the number of counter-narcotics operations and seized 18.5 tons of heroin last year, along with 80.7 tons of cannabis. "We also seized more than 24 million cannabis plants this year and this is much, much higher than the number of plants we seized last year," Soylu said.
The minister says that the terrorist group turned into growing cannabis plants in Turkey as their operations stalled the smuggling efforts. He noted that the terrorist group is cornered inside Turkey and turned to Europe to smuggle "skunk," a cheap drug, into Turkey.