Friday, May 16, 2008

Austria takes tough stance on cigarette imports

Austrian customs officials have started imposing tough fines on persons bringing Czech cigarettes to Austria and in addition they confiscate all the non-permitted cigarettes they find, the daily Lidove noviny wrote Tuesday.
Czechs taking out more than one carton of Czech cigaretteswhile travelling for holiday to Croatia via Austria could be severely punished because the Austrian customs officials have started imposing tough fines on all drivers who violate "the tobacco law" while crossing the Austrian border, the paper says.
Under the law, passed shortly before the Czech Republic joined the Schengen area without border checks last December, one person can only take out 200 pieces of cigarettes with the Czech-language health warning message while travelling from the Czech Republic to Austria.
Drivers have to pay a 50 euro fine for each additional carton of cigarettes if caught and besides, Austrian police confiscate the cigarettes from them, the paper says.
"The time when we just reprimand the people violating the law or simply return cars back to the Czech Republic is over. At present we confiscate everything that crosses the permitted limit," Franz Dorninger, head of the Linz customs administration, told Lidove noviny.
While as recently as in January and February Austrian customs officials were still lenient towards Czechs violating the tobacco law, in March they imposed 47 fines for carrying non-permitted amounts of cigarettes from the Czech Republic to Austria and 48 fines were imposed in April, Dorninger says.
"On average, the drivers who are usually caught having two additional cartons of cigarettes above the one permitted carton on them had to pay a 100 euro fine," he says.
However, statistics does not allow to find out whether the drivers punished were Czechs or Austrians, HN writes.
The Czech Industry and Trade Ministry resents the Austrian police raids on people taking Czech tobacco products out to Austria. On the basis of the EU agreements from January 1, 2008, Austria must allow the import of up to 800 pieces of Czech-made cigarettes per one person, Lidove noviny writes.
However, since Austrian cigarette sellers have threatened to stage a general trike if their government failed to protect them against the cheap Czech competition Vienna has adopted special measures.
Although it has officially confirmed that people are allowed to take to Austria up to four cartons of Czech cigarettes per one person this is only possible if the health warning message is written in German.
The import of cigarettes with the Czech health warning message remains limited to one carton.
"In our opinion, such measure runs counter to the rules of free trade within the EU," Czech Industry and Trade Ministry spokesman Tomas Bartovsky told Lidove noviny.
Industry and Trade Minister Martin Riman has thus called on Austrian Health Minister Andrea Kdolsky in written to abolish the controversial measure.
Riman was not satisfied with Kdolsky's answer in which she pointed to the protection of the health of the Austrian population.
He has thus called on the Association of Czech tobacco products traders to complain about the measure at the European Commission, Lidove noviny writes.
Despite the gradual increase in prices of tobacco products in the Czech Republic they are still cheaper there than in Germany or Austria. Foreigners thus buy roughly one-fourth of the 73 billion pieces of cigarettes annually sold in the Czech Republic, the daily Pravo wrote on Monday.
According to Pravo, foreigners took some 5.6 billion cigarettes out of the Czech Republic last year.
On the other hand, some 1.8 billion cigarettes were taken to the Czech Republic from Poland, Ukraine and Slovakia where tobacco products are substantially cheaper for Czechs, Pravo said.