Citizens Health Initiative highlights threat of illegal cigarette sales, calls for action

Citizens Health Initiative highlights threat of illegal cigarette sales, calls for action

Karachi, May 23, 2023 – Citizens Health Initiative (CHI), a public health organization, has responded to the misleading campaign by anti-tobacco organizations that undermines the volume and impact of illicit cigarettes.

CHI emphasizes the urgent need to address and counter the illegal sales of cigarettes, as it poses the most significant threat to public health.

CHI argues that the illegal cigarette trade is a major concern and calls for measures to reduce the price gap between legal and illegal cigarettes, as well as substandard cigarettes.

According to Wasil Khan, a spokesperson for CHI, the unintended consequence of raising taxes on legal cigarettes has been the increase in sales of illicit cigarettes. Due to a hike in Federal Excise Duty (FED), the price of legal cigarettes has doubled, while illegal cigarette brands are being sold at significantly lower prices, ranging from Rs 70 to Rs 80. This affordability of illegal cigarettes appeals to individuals with low purchasing power due to inflation.

Khan criticizes the negligence of anti-tobacco organizations towards the illegal cigarette trade while actively targeting the legal and regulated industry. He argues that this behavior inadvertently fuels the increase in the sale of cheap and illegal cigarettes, exacerbating the health risks associated with smoking in the country. He further claims that these organizations are using false statistics to mislead the government and policymakers into supporting their campaign to raise taxes on the documented industry.

Moreover, CHI highlights that these organizations rely on non-existent entities, such as “Capital Calling,” to deceive policymakers, disregarding research from reputable international institutions, including Euromonitor, Oxford Economics, and Ipsos. Studies conducted by these international research institutions indicate that Pakistan has become the largest market for illegal cigarettes in South Asia.

The spokesperson also criticizes the narrow focus of anti-tobacco activists on smuggled cigarettes as illicit, overlooking the significant number of domestically manufactured illegal cigarettes in AJK and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which evade excise duties. Contrary to the claims made by anti-tobacco organizations, he states that the actual market share of illegal cigarettes in Pakistan stands at approximately 40%.

The failure to acknowledge the significant volume of locally produced illicit cigarettes, according to the spokesperson, contributes to the alarming increase in smoking trends, leading to greater health risks and loss of life. He argues that the anti-smoking campaign, based on fabricated statistics from fictitious institutions, inadvertently promotes the illegal cigarette trade within the country.

Instead of addressing this critical public health issue, the campaign focuses on burdening the regulated industry with higher taxes, benefiting those involved in the illegal trade. Wasil highlights that due to the irresponsible behavior of anti-tobacco organizations, the government has fallen short of its target of collecting 260 billion rupees from the cigarette industry this fiscal year. Despite the increase in Federal Excise Duty (FED) on cigarettes in February, tax collections are projected to amount to only 200 billion rupees.

To safeguard public health, Wasil emphasizes the necessity for the government to investigate organizations that present misleading and false statistics. He suggests that the focus should shift to bringing non-tax-paying local cigarette manufacturers into compliance instead of increasing taxes on the legal and organized industry. This approach would effectively protect public health by restricting access to cheap cigarettes in the country.

READ MORE: Experts advocate for higher duties, taxes on cigarettes for healthy Pakistan

(Please note that the statements made by CHI are their own and subject to further analysis and discussion.)