On May 9, 1998, the International Herald Tribune published an article concerning the efforts of the European Union to secure U.S. government assistance in combating the smuggling of American cigarettes into various of the union’s member states. 1 According to European law-enforcement officials, the world’s largest tobacco companies—several of which are American based—have been selling billions of dollars of cigarettes each year into contraband pipelines. European concern sprang from three facets of the contraband phenomenon: in recent years its volume had tripled; the consequent tax losses had become considerable, estimated at $1.5 billion for 1997; and finally, it was believed that organized crime syndicates were running the smuggling operations, hence, they were enhancing the resources of already dangerous actors. American brands being prominent among those being smuggled, European investigators attempted unsuccessfully to secure from American tobacco companies the names of large-volume international customers.
R.J. Reynolds, the second-largest U.S. company, was the immediate target of the investigators’ efforts. In one case actively under investigation, Spanish customs officials had detained a ship carrying eighty million cigarettes originally loaded by Reynolds onto two other ships in Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, and sent to Greece. There they were transferred to the vessel belonging to the smuggling operation that carried them to Barcelona and their unintended rendezvous with the Spanish authorities. While denying any knowledge that the cigarettes would end up in the hands of smugglers, a Reynold’s spokesman said that the shipments had been sold to a company with which it had a long-standing relationship. Revealing its name, the spokesman added, was