ISLAMABAD: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has contradicted claims by multinational tobacco companies regarding the illicit cigarette trade, revealing that the actual figure in Pakistan stands at 23 percent.

“Overall, the illicit trade of cigarettes in Pakistan accounted for 23.1 percent of the total trade. Locally produced cigarettes without a stamp of the tax authority are considered illicit products and account for 10.4 percent of the total number of packs,” said WHO study titled “Study on Incidence of Illicit trade of cigarettes in Pakistan: A case study for Islamabad Capital Territory”.

It further said that, in terms of the number of packs with counterfeit tax stamps as a percentage of total packs, it is 1.9 percent, and smuggled cigarettes account for 10.7 percent of the total consumption.

In the past, there had been several studies on the volume of illicit trade in Pakistan but they were conducted before the Track and Trace System was enforced in the country (July 2022). These studies found that illicit trade market in Pakistan ranges from 9 to 17 percent but they did not estimate the extent of the counterfeit issue, according to the WHO.

“The most effective way to reduce tobacco consumption is to increase the price of tobacco products through higher taxes. In Pakistan, the cigarette industry claims that higher taxes trigger illicit trade, claiming smokers do not quit and opt for non-duty-paid cigarettes because they cost less,” the study said.

The world’s top health body emphasized that the prices of tobacco products in Pakistan should be increased by taxing the tobacco industry.

Anti-tobacco activists are pressing the government to raise tobacco taxes to 70 percent of the retail price, in line with WHO guidelines, to combat the alarming rate of tobacco consumption particularly among the youth.

Malik Imran Ahmed, Country Head of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), said, “With over 60 percent of the population comprising youth, it’s crucial for the government to protect them from the ills of tobacco use,” he said, “as the move is expected to generate additional revenue, surpassing Rs 200 billion by year-end,”.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024


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