Background: Concerns about the magnitude of illicit cigarette trade have prevented the Government of Pakistan from increasing tobacco taxes. We estimated the proportion of illicit cigarettes sold in Pakistani cities. Moreover, we compared two methods for collecting cigarette packs and investigated if the illicit cigarette trade equates to tax evasion.
Method: We analysed cigarette packs collected from 10 cities of Pakistan using two methods: consumer survey based on a two-stage random sampling strategy to recruit adult smokers and photograph their cigarette packs and waste recycle store survey to purchase used cigarette packs. Cigarettes were considered illicit if any one of the following was absent from their packs: text and pictorial health warning, underage sale prohibition warning, retail price and manufacturer's name. From the consumer survey, we also estimated the proportion of smokers who purchased loose cigarettes (illegal) and packs below the minimum retail price. Taxation officers (n=4) were consulted to assess their level of confidence in judging tax evasion using the above criteria.
Results: Out of 2416 cigarette packs in the consumer survey, 454 (17.8%; 95% CI 15.4% to 20.2%) were illicit. Similarly, out of 6213 packs from waste recycle shops, 1046 (16.8%; 95% CI 15.9% to 17.7%) were illicit; the difference was not statistically significant (p=0.473). Among consumers, 29.5% bought loose cigarettes and 13.8% paid less than the minimum retail price. The taxation officers considered the manufacturer's name and retail price on cigarette packs as the most relevant criteria to detect tax evasion.
Conclusions: One in six cigarette packs consumed in Pakistan could be illicit. These figures are far less than those propagated by the tobacco industry. Collecting packs from waste recycle stores is an efficient and valid method to estimate illicit cigarette trade.
Keywords: illegal tobacco products; low/middle income country; taxation.
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