A NEW report from Public Health Wales has detailed how attention is urgently needed to understand the impacts of Brexit on illicit trade in Wales to mitigate potential health harms and deaths linked to illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.

Brexit has changed which EU criminal databases the UK can access and created opportunities for different border and import controls and trading relationships. This has the potential to affect the supply of illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco in Wales as well as how the UK can work with the EU and others to detect and prevent illicit trade of these goods.

This comes as two new Freeports are set to be established in Wales. Freeports are designed to have fewer checks and regulations with the intention being to boost international trade but they can also be at increased risk of criminal exploitation unless sufficient measures are put in place.

Dr Louisa Petchey, Senior Policy Specialist in the WHO Collaborating Centre at Public Health Wales, said:

“Drug deaths have reached their highest ever levels in Wales. Alcohol deaths are also worryingly high, and smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in Wales. This makes the detection and prevention of illicit trade in these goods vital.

“But there can be solutions. To effectively reduce the illicit trade of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs in the UK and Wales and benefit population health and well-being, strategies will need to reduce both the supply and demand of these goods, and this will mean taking account of the potential impact of Brexit on both factors. This includes understanding its impact on supply chains, border controls, and law enforcement cooperation. It also means responding to the ways in which Brexit may have negatively impacted on health and well-being in Wales to decrease demand for these goods in the first place.”

Dr Julie Bishop, Director of Health Improvement at Public Health Wales, said: “Illegally traded alcohol and tobacco have a damaging impact on population health and well-being that exceeds the risk already posed by their legal forms. 

“Individuals from the worst-off areas of the UK and Wales are more likely to experience negative health outcomes from use of illicit products, including deaths and hospitalisations.  Therefore it’s really important that strategies are developed to reduce the trade in these products, as it will make a positive impact in communities who are facing the greatest challenges.”

 The main ways that Brexit has changed international collaboration to tackle illicit trade is through:

  • Data and information sharing: The UK does not have the same access to several EU databases for identifying criminals and illicit activity across Europe as it did before Brexit, potentially reducing its ability to detect and prevent illicit trade in the UK and Wales.
  • Border and import controls: Now that the UK sits outside of the EU, it no longer participates in the Single Market or Customs Union. This could be advantageous for tackling illicit trade if goods are subject to additional checks at UK borders. However, new international trade agreements and proposals for freeports in the UK and Wales may create new opportunities that criminals will seek to exploit to smuggle illicit goods into Wales and the UK.
  • Supply and demand: Post-Brexit, the UK is negotiating new international trade agreements, which have the potential to create new supply routes and opportunities for criminal exploitation. Brexit also has the potential to shape the demand for illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco in the UK and Wales by increasing risk of unemployment in sectors highly exposed to trade and poorer mental health due to uncertainty and a feeling of not being in control; all risk factors for increased consumption and/or misuse.