What is Smuggling?

G. Wiesen

Smuggling typically refers to the act of transporting some object into or out of a location in a way that is against the laws of that location. There are a number of different ways in which this action can occur, and many different products that are liable to be smuggled from one location to another. A great deal of this activity occurs in the form of objects that are illegal in a particular country or region being secretly brought into that area. Smuggling is also often done to surpass any taxes or legal conditions placed on the import or export of various items.

Smuggling involves illegally transporting goods across the border from one country to another.
Smuggling involves illegally transporting goods across the border from one country to another.

There are many different types of smuggling, and the laws of a country or region will typically indicate what activities are considered illegal. In general, smuggled goods are usually taken across a border, such as from one state into another, from one country into another, or into or out of a particular building such as a prison. It is this transportation of the object across the border of two distinct locations that constitutes the act of smuggling. There are many different objects that can be smuggled, depending on various laws, situations, and the demands of illegal markets.

Humans may be smuggled from one location to another to avoid immigration laws.
Humans may be smuggled from one location to another to avoid immigration laws.

Some of the most common forms of smuggling are those that involve transporting an item that is illegal in a particular area into that area. This often involves narcotics or weapons. There is also a tremendous amount of human smuggling, or human trafficking, which occurs in an effort to avoid the immigration laws of various countries. Many of the people smuggled through such trafficking operations are then forced by their smugglers into various forms of labor once they reach their destination, since their presence in the new area is illegal.

Narcotics are often concealed in an effort to avoid detection when smuggling drugs across a border.
Narcotics are often concealed in an effort to avoid detection when smuggling drugs across a border.

Other types of smuggling often arise in an effort to move otherwise legal items into or out of a country in a way that avoids taxes or other legal conditions. Goods such as certain foods, narcotics, and weapons may all legally be transported into some countries, but there is often a tariff or fee that must be paid on such products. Smugglers often transport such products into and out of countries illegally in an effort to avoid these fees and make greater profits on the sale of such items. When those involved in smuggling are discovered, they typically face jail time and punitive fines, as well as the seizure of the goods being smuggled.

To combat smuggling, packages may be opened for inspection when entering a country.
To combat smuggling, packages may be opened for inspection when entering a country.
Many people who are smuggled into a different country are later forced into various forms of labor.
Many people who are smuggled into a different country are later forced into various forms of labor.

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Discussion Comments


I think the punishment for smuggling should fit the severity of the crime.

For instance, if someone smuggles people or drugs, they should suffer the longest punishment. I know this probably seems like common sense, but apparently this is not the case in the judicial system.

If people are just smuggling things that will not hurt anyone, then it should be a lighter/shorter punishment. These people should still have consequences/punishments, but not as long or severe as someone who hurts others while smuggling.

It seems like some people literally or figuratively get away with murder, with little or no punishment, while others do something small, that really doesn't harm anyone, and they get punished for life.

I think the judicial system needs to change somehow, in order that people who deserve to be put away for a long do, and those who do not deserve to be locked up for long time do not.

Also, I hear the longer someone stays in prison the better it gets in some ways. I do not think that prison should get better, otherwise it is not a punishment or a consequence anymore.


My brother has smoked weed since he was a teenager. I kind of figured he would end up selling it someday to support his habit, because he is super lazy.

He knew that growing it himself was too risky, because cops are always finding fields of marijuana, and the penalty for growing it is years in jail. So, he decided to smuggle it from Mexico.

He wound up getting caught with Mexican weed at the border, so he ended up in jail after all. He couldn’t talk his way out of it, so he just told me everything while in prison. He asked me to tell our cousin that the plan was not a good idea, because she planned to travel there and attempt to smuggle some herself.


@seag47 - I know it’s illegal, but I see no harm in what your friends are doing. They are simply providing a wet spot to a dry county that so desperately needs hydration!

I do have an issue with what my neighbors are smuggling, though. They have a contact in another country who helps them smuggle illegal weapons.

These guns are illegal for a reason. They can tear a person apart with a single shot. I don’t feel safe living across the street from them, even though they have no reason to shoot me.

I’m too scared to call the cops, because the neighbors might guess who told on them. I will probably just end up moving.


I live in a dry county, and sometimes my friends smuggle alcohol into this county and attempt to sell it discreetly. Several of them have secret businesses set up to supplement their incomes.

People hate having to drive forty miles to the nearest wet county just to buy beer. The cops don’t know it, but smugglers make a killing around here.

I’m sure they would be in a lot of trouble if they got caught, but I don’t know of anyone who would rat them out. After all, everyone who knows about what they are doing needs them to stay in business so that they can get their alcohol!


My uncle once tried to smuggle a case of exotic fruit from somewhere in South America back into his country. Customs discovered the fruit, and they arrested him.

He was hoping to sell the fruit at his grocery store for a higher price than he paid for it. If it sold well, he knew someone who could provide him with more of the fruit.

Since it only grows in South America, there are restrictions and fines for trying to bring it into another country. Whatever he had hoped to sell it for wasn’t worth the time he had to spend in jail.


@matthewc23 - I believe I once heard of an incident where Denver Broncos Quarterback John Elway got in trouble for bringing a case of Coors beer to New York City with him. Even this instance they took notice of and it was something very simple as you described.

Although it seems to be a matter of seriousness when it comes to smuggling sometimes the police do focus on matters that really are not that serious. I wills say though though smuggling can involve a variety of things that are highly illegal and for the most part this is what the police are trying to stop.

Drugs and people seem to be the main instances of smuggling that law enforcement tries to stop and focus their attention on. Simple things, for the most part, are ignored by police and they simply confiscate the contraband.


@stl156 - I agree with you in that instance, but instances of smuggling, such as bringing fireworks into a state are different than something such as human trafficking.

Although technically smuggling the instance you described is not hurting anything or anybody and that is why police do not pay much attention to that form of smuggling. There are other instances like you described that do not hurt anybody but do get people in trouble.

In the movie Smokey and the Bandit the whole basis of the movie was to transport Coors beer east of the Mississippi River and to a place on time. The reason why this was such a big deal was because at the time there were laws that did not allow Coors beer to travel east of the Mississippi River otherwise it would be considered smuggling. This real life law made little sense but it was something simple that got truck drivers in a lot of trouble, as the movie depicted.

I guess this could be for commercial reasons that this law was enforced but I always found it to be a very simple type of smuggling that always seems to get people in trouble.


@JimmyT - For the most part you are right in characterizing smugglers as being criminals. However, this is done quite often in simple acts that would not leave me to believe that the people smuggling are criminals.

Take for example when someone goes to another state to buy fireworks. States like Illinois have strict firework laws in regards to selling and that is why people have to go to other states, such as neighboring Indiana, Kentucky, or Missouri which have really good fireworks and they bring them back to Illinois to light off.

Now are these people considered criminals? They are simply looking to have some good old fashioned fun on the fourth of July, but they did break the law. They smuggle these fireworks because police usually do not enforce these laws as long as it does not create a terrible disturbance, so there is little possibility of getting in trouble and certain not big trouble for smuggling in this instance.


Although there are some negative associations with smuggling I have heard that many of the American fore fathers were in fact smugglers that tried to get goods into America so they did not have to pay the high taxes and tariffs involved with bringing them in. I do not know many off hand, but I for sure know that Samuel Adams made a business out of smuggling goods into America.

This was done to circumvent the high tariffs and taxes imposed by the British, which led to the eventual Revolutionary War, and men like Adams were seen as patriots for doing so. In instances like these smuggling can be seen as a positive thing. However, today smuggling is usually looked down upon and most of the people that do engage in smuggling are considered criminals looking to break the laws and profit for their own gain.

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