Importing tobacco: can we really buy without limits in Belgium and the European Union?

To comply with European law, France has lifted the limit of 200 cigarettes that a smoker is allowed to bring back from another EU country. In the decree, which came into force on Friday March 29, the government chose not to set a threshold. Officially, there are no more limits. But to cross the Belgian border with a suitcase full of tobacco, you will still have to wait. European regulations set personal consumption at 800 cigarettes (4 cartridges), 400 cigarillos, 200 cigars and 1 kilogram of smoking tobacco.

Smokers returning from Belgium – where tobacco is cheaper, such as Spain – can now buy up to four cartons of cigarettes, provided they justify personal and non-commercial use. Behind this news, the reality is more complex.

Evaluation criteria by customs officers

It will be up to customs officials to assess whether there is “trade” or not. How will they be able to distinguish personal consumption from trafficking? By relying on “a bundle of clues”, indicated Thomas Cazenave, Minister for Public Accounts, during a press briefing. The decree thus sets out twelve criteria allowing agents to assess whether the person transporting cigarettes purchased them “for their own needs”. Among them: “The destination of the holder when it differs from his usual place of residence”, “the economic activity of the holder”, “the location of the products in the vehicle”, “the quantity of products”, the registration on a package with a name other than the holder or the variety of brands purchased.

For example, if customs officers intercept a French person carrying three cartridges of different brands purchased in Belgium, he will possibly be sanctioned. “That would mean that you are bringing it back for other people,” points out Bercy. It is rare for a smoker to smoke different cigarettes. » On the other hand, three identical cartridges, from Malboro for example, are fine…

Another example: “Imagine, you have a well-packaged cartridge with the name of a recipient to whom you are going to make a delivery, tomorrow, the customs officer will be able to sanction it,” detailed the minister, speaking to our colleagues at Sud Radio. Which was not sanctioned before. In summary, everything will depend on the “body of evidence” and the assessment of the police. “We are moving from a logic of quantity to a logic of purpose: whatever the threshold, if it is for resale, it is not good,” concluded the ministerial services.

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