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Smuggling has a long and controversial history, probably dating back to the first time at which duty was imposed in any form.

In Britain, smuggling became economically significant at the end of the 18th century The high rates of duty levied on wine and spirits, and other luxury goods coming in from mainland Europe at this time made the clandestine import of such goods and the evasion of the duty a highly profitable venture for impoverished fishermen and seafarers. The principal reason for the high duty was in order for the government to finance a number of extremely expensive wars with France and the United States of America.

Smuggling now is considerably diversified: the smuggling of immigrants, armaments, drugs, as well as the historical staples of smuggling, alcohol and tobacco are widespread throughout the Western world. In many parts of the world, particularly the Gulf of Mexico, the smuggling vessel of choice is the go-fast boat.

Smuggling has been the subject of many works of literature and a list of these can be found here.