Illicit cigarettes trade far less than propagated by tobacco industry – study

The illicit cigarettes trade figures are far less in Pakistani cities than those propagated by the tobacco industry to convince the government to avoid tax increase on cigarettes.

A research study titled, “Illicit Cigarette Trade in the Cities of Pakistan: Comparing Findings between the Consumer and Waste Recycle Store Surveys,” revealed that illicit cigarette sales were below 9 percent. The study is published in the Tobacco Control journal.

The multinational tobacco companies would intentionally present the inflated numbers of illicit cigarettes trade in Pakistan to persuade the policymakers to avoid tax increase on the tobacco products.

The study highlighted that one in six cigarette packs consumed in Pakistan could be illicit. These figures are far less than those propagated by the tobacco industry. Collecting packs from waste recycle stores is an efficient and valid method to estimate illicit cigarette trade, it said.

The opaque estimates of the illicit cigarette trade quoted by the tobacco industry and their constant interference in policymaking deter governments from imposing tobacco tax increases and thus lead to ineffectual tobacco control and a lost opportunity to collect more revenue, it said.

The study said that previously in the absence of robust and independent data on the extent of the illicit cigarette trade in Pakistan, the tobacco industry continued to lobby the government not to increase cigarette taxes, through scare tactics about a potential ‘rise’ in the illicit trade. 

The figures obtained in our study are in a long line of studies from other countries, which have exposed that inflating the illicit tobacco trade figures is one of the tobacco industry’s tactics in interfering in public policies, it said.

Besides, there is also strong evidence that increasing tobacco taxes as well as other tobacco control efforts such as the introduction of plain packaging do not increase the market share of the illicit tobacco products, the study found.

With 24 million adults using tobacco products and more than 160,100 tobacco-related deaths every year, Pakistan is among the 15 countries with the highest tobacco burden, the study added.

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