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Illicit Cigarettes and Jammu and Kashmir

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By: Dr Mir Abrar

One in five, or 20.8%, of J&K’s people smoke, against the national average of 10.7%, according to the Global Tobacco Survey 2016-17. The state ranks the sixth highest among Indian states by smoking habits, behind Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Mizoram in ascending order, as per this survey. Kashmiris annually spend Rs 600 Cr on tobacco products:  Srinagar tops list with Rs 122 Cr, Anantnag 2nd with Rs 103 Cr, Baramulla 3rd with Rs 98 Cr.

A research by the Department of Sciences at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York shows that such cigarettes in fact have higher levels of toxic chemicals tar, nicotine, carbon monoxide, lead, arsenic and toxic metal cadmium. These illegal cigarettes, owing to lack of quality control and questionable manufacturing processes,  could contain up to 500% higher levels of cancer-causing chemicals and issued warnings against their being sold in the shops. The illegal cigarette packs do not carry the mandatory 85% pictorial warning about ill effects of tobacco and therefore youths are likely to get lured by these fancy looking packets, which in turn is a recipe for disaster. It is tragic that youths in Kashmir are being targeted by these unscrupulous elements manufacturing illicit cigarettes using cheap and hazardous ingredients. What is more worrying is that, as these smuggled brands are gaining popularity in India, some scrupulous manufacturers are now producing counterfeit of popular foreign brands and clearing them clandestinely without paying any taxes or following any legal mandatory like 85% pictorial warnings. “In fact few recent raids by police and tobacco control authorities in National Capital Region including Faridabad, Noida and Ghaziabad found large volumes of counterfeit foreign brands like Win, Mond, ESSE etc which among others are dispatched regularly to many cities in Jammu & Kashmir,” say the findings. The illicit cigarettes also lure the youth for they come in different flavors, besides being cheaper and slimmer.

Another reason which makes illegal cigarettes sell like hot cakes is the huge price difference between Indian manufactured cigarettes and these illegal cigarettes, imported mainly from China, Indonesia and Korea. The retailers also benefit enormously by pushing sales of illegal cigarettes due to higher trade margin as these cigarettes are offered to the retailers at very low price. While the margin to retailers in legal cigarettes is about 10%, it goes unto a staggering 100% in illegal cigarettes.

Why does cigarette smuggling exist? Even if you’re a smoker, you already know that smoking cigarettes is a health hazard and causes cancer and heart disease, two of the biggest causes of death in the world. Millions of people still smoke cigarettes. The fact is that cigarette smuggling is still a big business and big money to be made for suppliers.

Why exactly do cigarettes cost so much? It’s the fact that taxes on cigarettes vary from state to state. That’s why there’s a cigarette smuggling industry. There’s a big profit for smugglers who buy cigarettes and then sneak into states with the highest selling prices.

The National Tobacco Control Cell (NTCC) at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) is responsible for overall policy formulation, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the different activities envisaged under the National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP). The National Cell functions under the direct guidance and supervision of the programme in-charge from the MoHFW i.e. Joint Secretary/Director. The technical assistance is provided by the identified officers in the Directorate General of Health Services i.e. Deputy Director General (DDG)/ Chief Medical Officer (CMO). The NTCC is supported by Consultants in specific areas of tobacco control like Policy, National Coordination, Legal, IEC etc.

National Tobacco Control Program (NTCP) aim to:

     Create awareness about the harmful effects of tobacco consumption,

     Reduce the production and supply of tobacco products,

     Ensure effective implementation of the provisions under “The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003” (COTPA)

 Help the people quit tobacco use, and

 Facilitate implementation of strategies for prevention and control of tobacco advocated by WHO Framework Convention of Tobacco Control.

National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP) started in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in 2016 in month of December in Kashmir Division. During this quarter following achievements have been made as per the website; All Heads of the Health department in the Kashmir Division have received Challan books and Signage’s for enforcement of COTPA-2003. Challan mechanism has been also initiated, wherein various districts have acted on violations under sec 4 of COTPA-2003.

But over a period of time it has been observed that neither the civil society actors nor the said government organization is pro-active to take appropriate measures in order to curb this menace, although there are monthly and quarterly reports in the media that some raids have been made which is not enough as per the magnitude and gravity of this situation.  Jammu and Kashmir although is implementing the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 (COTPA) even then Kashmir is on the top of the Smoking Pyramid including the sale of illicit and consumption of cigarettes.

Among other things the fact sheet of illicit trade and consumption of cigarettes Win- Mond- Esse- Pine etc without having statuary warning are being openly sold in the markets anywhere in J&K.

To curb the menace, conscientious citizens, civil society members, religious and social leaders besides the administration have to work jointly.

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