A study published by BMJ Tobacco Control suggests that less than three per cent of the cigarettes are available in the Indian market through illegal ways. However, industry estimates might be exaggerated in terms of illegal cigarette trade as reports which are often released when tobacco taxes are raised put the figure at 25-30 per cent, according to Indian Express. The survey was done from 11,063 collected cigarette packs from 1,727 retailers across the country and a range of illegal products were found. A cigarette packet was considered illegal if the packet had no graphic health warnings, no textual health warnings, had a duty free sign and did not have the text ‘price inclusive of all taxes’.
According to the report, ten random areas were selected across the country and empty cigarette packets were collected from shops within a 1km radius of the selected centre. The study revealed that the percentage of 2.73 per cent is way far from Euromonitor’s estimate of 21 per cent and tobacco industry estimate of 20 per cent. The study also noted that Mizoram’s Aizawl near the Myanmar and Bangladesh borders has the highest illegal cigarette trade percentage of 35.87 per cent. 13.77 per cent of illegal packs were found among the cheapest cigarettes. The study was conducted by researchers from the Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi, and the School of Economics, University of Cape Town and is the first of its kind research in India.
The study is important as every time the tobacco taxes are increased which is an intervention into public health to reduce consuming of cigarettes and the tobacco industry blame the illegal trade for the losing out of revenues. The study is also published at a time when Karnataka High Court order that ruled that 40% and not 85% should be the size of the pack warnings. The Supreme Court, which later stayed the Karnataka High Court order, will hear the matter in the coming days.