Local cigarette brands being sold below legal price

LAHORE - The tobacco manufacturers of local brands are selling cigarettes below the minimum legal price, violating health rules and hindering government’s initiatives of discouraging smoking. During a market survey, it was found that brands such as Gold Street, Olympic, Hero, Kisan, Gold Cup, Melburn, Press and Cricket were selling in the market below the legal price. These brands were priced at Rs. 35, Rs. 25, Rs. 30, Rs. 20, Rs. 33, Rs. 35, Rs. 35 and Rs. 15 per packed respectively.
Government levies alone add up to approximately Rs.28 per pack of 20 cigarettes. According to market sources some of these local brands of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and AJ&K are being sold at a price, which do not even cover these government levies. The approximate loss to government revenue is $250 million.
Government of Pakistan introduced the minimum cigarette price per pack of 20 cigarettes in 2006. Currently the minimum price is Rs.42 per pack. This law intends to stop the availability of extremely cheap cigarettes to the youth and low income segments of the population.
These local manufacturers are playing with the lives of youngsters to make more money. These brands are flourishing because of good distribution chain, a ready market for illicit products, lack of enforcement and corrupt practices.
These local tax evaded brands not only violate the anti-tobacco regulations but have also been violating the tobacco advertisement guidelines of 2009 by giving different incentives to attract smokers such as tractors, cycles, motorcycles and many others items seen on different walls around Pakistan for quite some time.
Such bold advertisement campaigns across Pakistan for these local brands show complete disregard for Pakistan’s anti-tobacco and advertisement regulations.
An economic expert explained that the youth and the low income population wants to buy cheap products and such local manufacturers running this business of illicit tobacco take advantage of this demand for cheap cigarettes.
He warned that if the government didn’t address these issues on time, these illicit local brands would not only continue attracting youth towards smoking but would also cause huge tax losses to the national exchequer.
What is needed is better enforcement of existing regulations and a dedicated task force which could make sure that none of the cigarettes are sold below the minimum price in Pakistan. Government should also consider running an awareness campaign at the retail level, informing retailers about the illegality of local brands being sold below the minimum legal price.
Regulation without enforcement is futile. Instead of introducing more regulations in addition to the numerous existing ones, they should concentrate on enforcement of existing regulations and play a more responsible role in safeguarding the youth and the low income segment.

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