Hyderabad: The illegal cigarette trade is thriving in Hyderabad and Warangal districts with the help of a mafia operating from Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and the North East. Over a dozen illegal brands have been found circulating in TS and AP.
The mafia networks came to light when enforcement teams of the commercial tax department studied the movement of illegal cigarette agents. Many undeclared godowns in Hyderabad and Warangal districts were raided under the supervision of commissioner V. Anil Kumar and additional commissioner B. Revati Rohini of the TS CT department.
“After tracking vehicles from Chhattishgarh and MP at toll gates we found that they were not reported for VAT. But, later we found them delivering goods at undeclared godowns,” said an insider. He added, “The stocks were found in some undeclared godowns in Gowliguda, Begum Bazaar, Troop Bazaar and other markets in Hyderabad in in Warangal. As per norms the traders have to declare godowns.” The enforcement wing has seized illegal cigarettes worth around Rs 10 crore.
Research organisation Euromonitor said in a study, “As there is no MRP on illegal cigarette packs, smugglers make a handsome margin. In cities like Mumbai, New Delhi, Pune, Bengaluru and Hyderabad the trade in contraband cigarettes is conducted openly.”
The report adds that the legal cigarette industry, which produced 109 billion sticks in 2006-07 cut its output to about 101 billion in 2010-11. But the illegal segment has grown to about 20 billion cigarettes, that is about 16 per cent of the industry. Euromonitor estimates that illegal cigarettes in India will constitute about 23 per cent of the industry by 2016.
Registering a growth rate of 82 per cent between 2004 and 2011 the illegal cigarette industry of India has made the country the sixth largest market in the world for its products.
Cheap substitutes used in illegal cigarettes:
Illegal cigarettes are a bigger problem than we think, say experts. It allows people to buy them at a low price with no idea about the quality of the tobacco. Illegal tobacco is mainly consumed by the poor. “It is a major public health problem as it promotes smoking. It also undermines efforts against cigarettes and encourages smokers to puff more as it is cheap,” said Dr Vamshidhar Allam, a general physician.
Medical experts say that illegal tobacco contains arsenic, rat droppings and far more tar and carbon monoxide than legal products. Sometimes, it's not tobacco but things like manure and wooden chips.
But Dr C. Vijay Kumar, pulmonologist said, “Cigarettes with substitute likes manure and wooden chips are less harmful than real tobacco.”