Moves that would stop cigarettes being sold on the black market by terrorist groups and criminal gangs are in jeopardy following intense lobbying by the tobacco industry.

The European parliament will this week hold a crucial vote on the European tobacco directive that would compel EU member states to introduce an independent “track and trace” system for cigarettes, as well as imposing larger health warnings on packs and a ban on thin cigarettes, popular with young women.

Customs agencies, including HMRC, are alarmed that billions of cigarettes a year are being sold by tobacco companies to third parties who then sell them to other distributors, who ship them from high tax to low tax areas and even into countries in breach of international sanctions.

The complicated distribution network makes tracking cigarettes extremely difficult. As a result, the agencies see a new, independent track and trace system, which would give each pack of cigarettes its own unique identity stored on a government controlled database, as crucial.

The Observer reported two years ago that a dossier compiled by tobacco giant JTI’s then head of brand integrity, who was later fired after reporting his findings, alleged that its distributors were smuggling cigarettes across more than a dozen countries to avoid tax. Much of the product, it was suspected, went to Iran. There were also claims that JTI product was being smuggled from Russia into the more heavily taxed EU. JTI strenuously denied any wrongdoing and all the cigarette companies are adamant they do not connive with the distributors to bypass tax regimes.

But plans to introduce an independent tracking system have met with ferocious lobbying by the tobacco giants who want to use their own alternative, called Codentify, which has been strongly criticised by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health. The four tobacco giants have, unusually, come together to press the case for their own system which is supported by Interpol, the international policing organisation that has received more than 15m from the tobacco giant Philip Morris International.

A document leaked to the Observer, outlining the German position on the “track and trace” component of the directive, suggests its officials are preparing to endorse the tobacco industry’s proposals to retain its own tracking system. The tobacco lobby is strong in Germany where several of the political parties are well funded by the industry, a significant employer in the country.

Anti smoking groups fear continuing with the status quo means cheap cigarettes will continue to be smuggled across borders depriving national exchequers from legitimate revenue and allowing tobacco to fall into the hands of terrorists and organised criminal gangs.

“If the European parliament doesn’t get a final version of the tobacco directive agreed before the European elections next spring, then to all intents and purposes the tobacco industry will have won and the revised directive will be dead in the water,” said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity ASH.

American teens are less likely than european teens to use cigarettes and alcohol

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. The U.S. had the second lowest proportion of students who used tobacco and alcohol compared to their counterparts in 36 European countries, a new report indicates.

The results originate from coordinated school surveys about substance use from more than 100,000 students in some of the largest countries in Europe like Germany, France and Italy, as well as many smaller ones from both Eastern and Western Europe.

Because the methods and measures are largely modeled after the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future surveys in this country, comparisons are possible between the U.S. and European results. The 15 and 16 year old students, who were drawn in nationally representative samples in almost all of the 36 countries, were surveyed last spring. American 10th graders in the 2011 Monitoring the Future studies are of the same age, so comparisons are possible.

The differences found between adolescent behaviors in the U.S. and Europe are dramatic, according to Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the American surveys.

About 27 percent of American students drank alcohol during the 30 days prior to the survey. Only Iceland was lower at 17 percent, and the average rate in the 36 European countries was 57 percent, more than twice the rate in the U.S.

The proportion of American students smoking cigarettes in the month prior to the survey was 12 percent again the second lowest in the rankings and again only Iceland had a lower rate at 10 percent. For all European countries the average proportion smoking was 28 percent, more than twice the rate in the U.S.

“One of the reasons that smoking and drinking rates among adolescents are so much lower here than in Europe is that both behaviors have been declining and have reached historically low levels in the U.S. over the 37 year life of the Monitoring the Future study,” Johnston said. “But even in the earlier years of the European surveys, drinking and smoking by American adolescents was quite low by comparison.

“Use of illicit drugs is quite a different matter.”

The U.S. students tend to have among the highest rates of use of all of the countries. At 18 percent, the U.S. ranks third of 37 countries on the proportion of students using marijuana or hashish in the prior 30 days. Only France and Monaco had higher rates at 24 percent and 21 percent, respectively. The average across all the European countries was 7 percent, or less than half the rate in the U.S.

American students reported the highest level of marijuana availability of all the countries and the lowest proportion of students associating great risk with its use factors that may help to explain their relatively high rates of use here, according to Johnston.

The U.S. ranks first in the proportion of students using any illicit drug other than marijuana in their lifetime (16 percent compared to an average of 6 percent in Europe) and using hallucinogens like LSD in their lifetime (6 percent vs. 2 percent in Europe). It also ranks first in the proportion reporting ecstasy use in their lifetime (7 percent vs. 3 percent in Europe), despite a sharp drop in their ecstasy use over the previous decade. American students have the highest the proportion reporting lifetime use of amphetamines (9 percent), a rate that is three times the average in Europe (3 percent). Ecstasy was seen as more available in the U.S. than in any other country.

For some drugs, however, the lifetime prevalence rate in the U.S. was just about the average for the European countries, including inhalants (10 percent), cocaine (3 percent), crack (2 percent), heroin (1 percent) and anabolic steroids (1 percent).

“Clearly the U.S. has attained relatively low rates of use for cigarettes and alcohol, though not as low as we would like,” Johnston said. “But the level of illicit drug use by adolescents is still exceptional here.”