–Sale is rampant near government departments including courts, excise, NADRA and passport offices
–Shopkeepers say no government official apprised them regarding the ban
LAHORE: The sale of loose cigarettes remains unnoticed and unchecked in the metropolitan despite the fact that the government had placed a ban on the sale of loose cigarettes last month, Pakistan Today has observed. Most shopkeepers in Lahore are still selling loose cigarettes to their loyal and trustworthy customers in a secret manner while they have also increased the price of loose cigarettes due to the newly emerged ‘black market’ in this case.
The sale of loose cigarettes can be seen at different tobacco shops located in Shahdara, Garhi Shahu, Davis Road, Queens Road and at makeshift shops within the vicinity of government departments including courts, excise, NADRA and passport offices where a large number of litigants and applicants visit on daily basis.
Waqar Butt, a shopkeeper near Davis Road, said that he was selling cigarettes in loose packing because his profit margin decreased drastically when he sold a packed packet of cigarettes.
“A pack has 20 cigarettes inside it and a pack of a certain brand is usually sold for Rs 135 but if I sell loose cigarettes then I charge Rs 8 per cigarette which means that I sell all 20 cigarettes for Rs 160 and my profit margin is automatically increased by Rs 25 on each pack,” Butt said, adding that he could not afford the expenses of his shop, including the rent and electricity charges, if he restricted himself to selling only packs of cigarettes.
It is worth mentioning that the sale of loose cigarettes was banned by the federal cabinet last month on the recommendations of Ministry of National Health Services to discourage the increasing habit of smoking among children and teenagers as most children cannot afford buying packs of cigarettes and prefer to buy loose cigarettes from their pocket money. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control also urges the countries to take concrete steps, including the ban on sale of small packets or loose cigarettes, in order to protect children from the habit of smoking. Many countries, including Iran, Turkey and Nepal, strictly adhere to this provision. It is important to note that Pakistan had banned the sale of small packets containing 10 cigarettes each in 2010 but the sale of loose cigarettes is still the norm despite the fact that any shopkeeper involved in such activity would be arrested according to the new law.
Muhammad Naeem, a shopkeeper at Queens Road, said that he sold loose cigarettes only to his old and trustworthy customers as he was sure that they would not launch any complaint against him. When asked that if he was ever informed by any government official regarding the ban, he said that the shopkeepers were only informed by the wholesale dealers about the ban and no department of the government bothered to inform the shopkeepers about the new law.
“I am selling loose cigarettes because a large number of government offices are near my shop and most of the government officials, including some policemen, also buy loose cigarettes from my shop,” he said.
A black market has also emerged as the shopkeepers are selling loose cigarettes of a certain brand for Rs 10 each, increasing the price from Rs 8 to Rs 10 rupees because of the risk factor involved in selling loose cigarettes.
According to experts, lung diseases would be the third leading cause of death by 2020.
When contacted, Lahore Deputy Commissioner’s Spokesperson Imran Maqbool said that different teams had already been formed in every zone of Lahore and they were trying to get the new law implemented.
“Earlier, we implemented the law that barred the sale of cigarettes to children under the age of 18 and the new law would also be implemented in letter and spirit,” he said.