16% of all cigarettes smoked in Pakistan are illicit, big Tobacco Companies are behind; Report

Islamabad: Illicit trade of cigarettes in Pakisan is on rise, 16 percent of cigarette packs were found to be illicit out of 8000 packs checked in 10 different cities. This was revealed during an online seminar titled “An online dialogue on Illicit Trade of Tobacco Products in Pakistan- Who is responsible?” organized by Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) organized on Wednesday.

Dr Ziauddin, Technical head of Tobacco Control Cell & Co Investigator of study said, according survey more than 6,000 smokers were asked about their desire to quit smoking and their views on tobacco control measures. On average, one smoker spends almost 2000 rupees on cigarettes and smokes about 13 cigarettes a day. Two-third of smokers want to stop smoking. However, in the absence of any proper counseling or medicines, most fail to stop completely.

He further added the Studying Tobacco Users of Pakistan (STOP) survey was conducted in 10 most populous cities of Pakistan. Additionally, survey team also examined more than 8000 cigarette packs to check how many packs were illegal or smuggled. Approximately, 16% of cigarette packs were found to be illegal. However, this estimate is much lower than the claims made by the tobacco industry.

Ch.Sana Ullah Ghuman, Secretary General, Pakistan National Heart Association said that multinational tobacco companies are involved in the illegal trade of the cigarettes. He added that a report by Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC) confirmed that these companies under-report their production and then sell their non-reported products in the illicit market, causing billions of loss to the State.

Mr. Ghuman further said, “tobacco industry is again spreading false figures about illicit cigarettes to get concessions from the government. The industry did similar campaigns at the time of budget every year.”

Sajjad Ahmed Cheema, Executive director, SPARC expressed satisfaction over the findings of the study. He said this is the positive outcome of tobacco taxation reforms by present government and this seems to be great support that most smokers are in favor of tobacco control. However, most of them want to quit for good and know that these measures will help them to achieve complete freedom from tobacco addiction”.

He expected that government would continue its tobacco taxation policy & enhance FED on cigarette as proven strategy to discourage smoking and increasing government revenue in upcoming budget 2020-2021.
The STOP survey was approved by the Pakistan Health Research Council and executed in collaboration with Tobacco Control Cell of the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination. The study findings are timely, as the new budget will be announced soon. There will be renewed calls to increase taxes on tobacco and the study findings will energize such efforts.