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LAHORE: Expressing serious concerns over the alarming prevalence of unregistered cigarette brands across the country, an NGO engaged in public health activities has said these brands of cigarette pose a significant threat to public health policy and the country’s economy amidst its most challenging financial crisis.

“A substantial portion of unregistered cigarette brands in the country hinders the government’s efforts to reduce tobacco consumption, a spokesperson of the NGO-Citizens’ Health Initiative (CHI), said, adding: “These unregistered cigarettes not only increase the burden on public health expenditure but also undermine efforts to document the tobacco industry.”

It is pertinent to mention that as per estimates there are over 125 unregistered and non-duty-paid cigarette brands being sold in the market. Additionally, out of the 154 available brands, 128 lack the required tax stamps, leading to significant revenue losses.

A recent report from a global research firm revealed the challenges faced in tracing locally produced cigarettes, with 83% of cigarette brands sold in the country lacking tax stamps. Based on data collected from ten districts in Pakistan, the report highlighted those two-thirds of cigarette brands that are being sold below the government’s legal price threshold, indicating inefficiency on the part of the authorities.

The spokesperson further said that selling cigarettes below the legal price in the Pakistani market is only possible when brands evade taxation by remaining unregistered. The research reports indicate the need for immediate and decisive action by the authorities to address these unregistered brands.

He said that implementation of a track and trace system was intended to prevent substantial financial losses to the national exchequer caused by illicit trade. However, the rampant sale of unregistered cigarettes within the country is undermining the effectiveness of this system, he added.

To prevent further losses to the national exchequer and safeguard the legitimate industry from the perils of illegal cigarette trade, he said, it is imperative for the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to uniformly implement the track and trace system across the entire cigarette industry. Only through this comprehensive approach can the desired results of the system be achieved, concluded the spokesperson.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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