Around 16% of all cigarettes smoked in capital are illicit

Study lays bare truth behind claims of the tobacco industry

Our Correspondent May 07, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Around 15.95% of all cigarettes which are consumed every day in Islamabad are illicit. This was claimed in a study carried out by a think tank.

The study, “The burden of illicit trade of cigarettes”, was launched by the FFO on Monday.

According to study, companies selling these cigarettes fail to comply with the government’s six-factor criteria of large pictorial health warnings, textual health warning, low price, age warning, manufacturer details and printing of retail price.

Parliamentary Secretary for health Dr Nausheen Hamid stated that the pilot study was carried out to measure the extent of illicit trade of cigarettes in Islamabad to help strategize tobacco control in Pakistan.

Talking about the burden of tobacco use in the country she said that tobacco use is the single largest, preventable cause of death in the world.

“Tobacco kills around 166,000 people every year in Pakistan where 23.9 million adults use tobacco in different forms,” Dr Hamid stated, adding that the annual economic cost of smoking in Pakistan was as high as Rs143.208 billion. She expressed satisfaction over the findings of the study, adding that the policy of reducing cigarette prices introduced by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) during the tenure of the last government had been introduced on the basis of overblown figures of illicit cigarette trade.

However, the report shows that the burden of illicit trade in cigarettes in Islamabad was almost half than that quoted by the tobacco industry.

The report further countered claims of the tobacco industry about smokers shifting towards cheaper brands if the price is increased while 61% of smokers would quit or reduce smoking if cigarette prices were raised. However, the study disclosed that only eight per cent of smokers would opt for cheaper cigarettes if the price is increased.

Earlier, Dr Ziauddin Islam talked about the rational and intended benefits of the study in strategizing tobacco taxation policy reforms in Pakistan. He stated that the study will be replicated in all provincial capitals of Pakistan, in the next phase, so as to present a national picture using data.

FFO Project Manager Muhammad Faisal gave a detailed presentation on the study. He said that 1,131 smokers included in the study smoked a total of 14,463 cigarettes a day. Out of these, 179 were found smoking 2,307 sticks of illicit brands and 952 smokers were using 12,156 sticks of from legal brands.

Of the 15.95% of cigarettes deemed as illicit, only 10.74% of cigarettes were smuggled while 5.2% of cigarettes were low priced or had not paid their duty. These cigarettes which did not pay duties met all the criteria for legitimate brands but were selling Rs25 to Rs40 cheaper than other cigarettes.

Giving a detailed explanation about the cigarettes classified as illicit, he said that these cigarette brands failed to comply with the six-factor criteria, such as pictorial health warnings, textual health warning, low price, age warning, manufacturer details and printing of retail price.

He further said that that smoking was inversely related to academic qualification and price with respondents appearing to be less educated (65.7% were matriculate or below).

Moreover, 25.5% were willing to quit smoking if the price of cigarettes were doubled, while 36.2% said that they would reduce smoking if prices of cigarettes doubled. 

Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2019.


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