Chandigarh, Sep 23 : Taking a tough stand, Punjab Principal Secretary (health and family welfare) Anurag Aggarwal on Monday directed the concerned authorities to initiate action against vendors indulging in the sale of illegally imported cigarettes and pan masala with flavoured chewing tobacco in separate sachets.
IANS last week highlighted how the sale of illegally imported cigarettes in the state has become common, posing a serious threat to the health of the smokers, who are getting hooked to catchy packets of international brands sans proper health warnings.
Anti-tobacco activists told IANS that the sale of illegal cigarettes, which is an organised crime, not only evades the state's high taxes but also plays with the lives of smokers, mainly the first-timers, because of inferior manufacturing processes and low quality tobacco with high levels of tar and nicotine.
Presiding over the state-level coordination committee meeting here to curb the usage of tobacco, Aggarwal said that it is a matter of grave concern that some manufacturers are selling pan masala (without tobacco) with flavoured chewing tobacco in separate sachets, which are often sold together by the same vendor.
He said the sale of such products is totally illegal in the state.
Aggarwal said the sale of cigarette packets without 85 per cent pictorial warning against tobacco usage is also a crime.
He directed the Excise Department to take strict action against the offenders.
Trade insiders told IANS that Punjab alone has an annual legal market of 120 million cigarettes and the illegal market accounts for 20 per cent of the total trade.
Chandigarh and Panchkula have a market of 30 million and six million cigarettes annually, respectively, and the illegal market also has a share of 15-20 per cent.
Most of the illegal cigarette brands originate from China and Indonesia and the retailers are getting attracted to them as they are available at a significantly lower price as compared to the legal brands.
They are sold in the market at one fifth the price of the legal products.
"The trade of illegal brands is getting acute in big cities like Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Patiala and Amritsar where the retailers prefer to sell these brands which are cheap and the profit margins are enormous," said an insider.
Take the case of an illegally imported brand.
A pack of 20 cigarettes costs Rs 20-30 to the retailer, who sells it for Rs 100. An Indian brand, on the other hand, costs between Rs 250 and Rs 300 with a profit margin of approximately Rs 5 per pack.
The insider said there is huge price difference between Indian brands and the illegal ones due to tax evasion.