The online sale of smuggled cigarettes and unregistered vape products endangers the lives of consumers and defeats the goal of promoting less harmful alternatives to smoking, according to a consumer rights group based in the Philippines.
“The problem of illicit tobacco trade is a persistent concern among various stakeholders who are actively working towards promoting less harmful alternatives to traditional smoking,” said Antonio Israel, president of the Nicotine Consumers Union of the Philippines (NCUP).
Israel issued the statement in support of the message delivered by Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Commissioner Romeo Lumagui during the Anti-Illicit Trade Summit recently held at Shangri-La The Fort in Taguig City.
“We have staunchly advocated for harm reduction strategies to save smokers’ lives. But those efforts are undermined by illicit tobacco trade because it opens doors to potentially unregulated and downright dangerous products,” Israel said.
Israel is one of the lead convenors of the “EKIS sa Smuggling” anti-illicit tobacco trade advocacy—a digital movement that aims to educate the retailers and consumers on the dangers of buying and selling illicit and counterfeit tobacco. EKIS was established to raise awareness online of this growing menace.
He underscored the importance of educating the public on the risks associated with counterfeit and unregulated products. He also urged retailers and consumers to be vigilant, exercise utmost caution and only purchase from trusted and authorized sources.
Israel said consumer education would lead to support for legal and regulated markets and ensure the continued availability of safer alternatives.
The NCUP convenor commended the BIR and Lumagui for their dedication to fighting illicit tobacco trade.
“We salute the BIR and Commissioner Lumagui for their untiring commitment to go after illicit traders. There needs to be proactive measures from the government to ensure the safety of consumers. Not many people know even buying 1 counterfeit cigarette stick or 1 unregistered vape on Shopee or Lazada has disastrous ripple effects which adversely impact our economy and public health,” said Israel.
Lumagui, in his speech at the anti-illicit trade summit, revealed that crime syndicates worldwide were using profits from illicit trade to fund illegal activities such as human and drug trafficking, money laundering, cybercrime and armed robbery. He said this puts international and local communities in great security peril.
Lumagui confirmed that illicit trade had affected economies in all regions of the globe during the pandemic. He said that in the Philippines, illicit trade has a devastating effect, with the illicit cigarette trade causing the BIR to incur a 20-percent shortfall in its target excise tax collection.
Lumagui said the problem of smuggled goods also extended to digital space, as he vowed to intensify efforts against illicit trade of unregistered and non-compliant vapes and heated tobacco products which continue to be sold in major online shopping platforms like Lazada, Shopee and Facebook Marketplace.