RAWALPINDI: The production of cigarettes, their sale and stocks increased by 9.4pc and 19.2pc, respectively, in Punjab during the peak of coronavirus pandemic, according to official data.

A monthly survey conducted by the Planning and Development Department on industrial production and employment showed that total employment in three major cigarette industries in the province was the highest - 1.2pc - in Sept 2020 compared to the previous months.

Meanwhile, figures released by the Punjab Statics Department downplayed the stance of foreign cigarette companies in Pakistan that there was a decline in their production because of an increase in the illicit trade.

Latest data released by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) also showed that the cigarette production reached 21.4 billion sticks in July-Nov 2020 with an increase of around 3.5 billion sticks over the comparative period last year.

The yearly growth in the July-Nov period was especially strong in July that was 76pc higher compared to the same period last year and August witnessed an increase of 22pc against the same month last year. While Nov 2020 saw an 18pc yearly growth.

A recent research study released by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) also revealed that the cigarette consumption figures stood at a whopping 86.6 billion per year while the official figures by the industry remained restricted to 55 billion only to evade taxes.In Pakistan, there are 22 million tobacco users, wherein 60pc are adolescents. Resultantly, 1.5 million cases of oral cancer are reported by Pakistan Medical Association on a yearly basis.

The anti-smoking activists have said the anomaly has to be checked by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) that the foreign companies manipulate data for pressuring the regulator to form policies in their favour and earn revenues at the behest of the national exchequer.

The Punjab government data also clearly depicted that the present taxation policy and the enforcement measures are not up to the mark for controlling the market from such kind of malpractices used by the tobacco sector to achieve big profits.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2021

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