Carreras warns against insect parts, faecal matter in illegal cigarettes

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 26, 2018

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MANAGING director of Carreras Limited Marcus Steele has warned that the growing trade in illicit cigarettes poses an even greater threat to the health of consumers, citing industry analysis which indicate that illegal cigarettes have been found to contain insect parts and faecal matter.

Speaking with the Jamaica Observer earlier this month, Steele made an appeal to Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton, to monitor what he called an alarming trend in the consumption of illegal cigarettes.

“We have found in the illegal cigarettes faeces, insects, and there is a reason for this. Cigarettes have to be stored under certain conditions. We don't even know that, in some cases, if it's really tobacco. It could be any leaf, it could be anything in there, mixed. Because they do mix these things,” Steele said.

He pointed to findings in an industry analysis led by Carreras' parent company, British American Tobacco, which revealed that contraband cigarettes pose a greater risk to health than legal products as they are likely to contain many times the levels of tar and carbon monoxide found in genuine cigarettes, and in some cases, can contain mold, insects, insect eggs, fungi and even human faeces.

The study, which came from the General Chemical State Laboratory in Greece, where illegal cigarettes are prevalent, showed an excess of the legal limits of nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide even by 15 per cent, 70 per cent and 100 per cent respectively, found in samples of illicit brands.

Steele further noted that in their own local survey, contraband cigarettes were found to be prevalent and widely consumed among those who are looking for a cheaper smoke, compared to the heavily taxed legal cigarettes.

“We do a survey every quarter to track legal and illegal cigarettes smoked. The research is showing that of the consumption of cigarettes in Kingston, over 50 per cent is illicit. So we have a situation where the major cities or the major towns are infested with the illicit.”

Following Kingston with the second-highest rate of illicit cigarette consumption is St Catherine with 12.9 per cent, with St James, 11.1 per cent, and St Ann at 9.2 per cent coming next.

Common illicit brands include Vybz, Seneca, Ten Twenty's, Hatamen, Pacific, Newport and D&J, without the graphic health warning.

Steele claimed: “They've created the demand and there is someone supplying that demand. When we walk in the market we see these every day. And the illegal brands, they are very easy to identify on the pack because they do not conform to the 60 per cent graphic health warning that is very specific to Jamaica”, Steele said.

In an attempt to address the glaring irony of his concerns, Steele argued that legal traders have to follow standard quality assurance procedures, something he said the illicit traders do not adhere to.

“We the legal players, we owe a duty of care to our customers. We store our products under very high-quality conditions. Our manufacturing process also is of the highest quality. We hold ourselves at very high standards. I don't believe the illicit traders do that. It's all about the money for them,” Steele said.

An industry analysis corroborated Steele's argument, revealing that illegal cigarettes do not undergo the relevant quality assurance processes and therefore pose an even greater risk to the health of its consumers.

The analysis also showed that the tobacco used in the illegal brands is of low quality, while the products contain dangerous elements such as unknown chemicals.

Further to that, a 2012 review on cigarette smuggling by the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation or Europol was quoted as saying:

“To increase profits, illegal tobacco is produced with cheap materials, and with little regard for health and quality controls. These cigarettes are sold to smokers instead of genuine products, which have to meet certain standards.”

Checks with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), a regional affiliate of the World Health Organization (WHO), revealed that there are no studies from the Caribbean or Latin America on the constituents of illegal cigarettes.

Steele hinged his concern on the observation that cigarette consumption is shifting towards the illegal market where there are no regulations or monitoring of how the products are manufactured, packaged and, more importantly for him, how they are priced.

He noted that contraband cigarettes are being sold for far less (between $20-$25 per stick), compared to popular brands, Pallmall and Matterhorn, which go for $45-$60 per stick.

“If you are talking about health issues in tobacco smoking, you cannot only look at the legal market. You have to look at consumption generally. And what has been happening is that the consumption is shifting towards the illegal market.

“When they [consumers] get the $20 a stick, the $25 a stick, they are going to buy it uninformed. They themselves don't even know what they are smoking. So to address the issue from the health side, I would dare them — the health minister, PAHO, and WHO — to look at the wider scale of consumption pattern and not just the legal market; understand really what is happening”, Steele said.

So far, checks with the Ministry of Health revealed that there is no monitoring of the consumption of illicit cigarettes, something which Steele argues is a grave oversight.

“We have to submit a report every year on our business to the ministry of health. The illegal guys are not doing that. They don't know where these products are being manufactured. They don't know the contents of these products and our consumers, because of affordability, they are looking for the cheaper smoke”, Steele said.

In its response, the Ministry of Health said that it was doing its part to crash the illegal trade.

“The Ministry of Health tracks the consumption of cigarettes, full stop,” it said.

“From a public health perspective, taxation has been shown to prevent non-smokers from starting, prevent former users from re-starting and lead current users to try to quit. Higher taxes also reduce consumption among those who do continue to smoke,” the ministry went on in addressing the matter of affordability.

However, Steele called the ministry's position as a “misguided view”.

“The consumption of cigarette is there; the consumption is taking place. So the misguided view that the WHO and PAHO take about there's the direct link between the level of excise and consumption and that the higher the taxes, the lower the consumption. It's a misguided and uninformed view, because they are always looking at the legal market only.

“So to celebrate, you are quoting the numbers we are sharing with you from the legal market and saying 'consumption has fallen' and that's not true. Your biggest risk is not with the legal market; it is with the illegal market, because God knows what kind of health-related issues can now surface, now that you are consuming all of these foreign bodies”, Steele said.

The ministry also pointed out that, “The illicit trade is a security and law enforcement of border security problem and not an issue of taxation”.

Steele acknowledged that the excise of tobacco is a matter of policy for the Administration, but maintained that the illicit trade in tobacco poses an even great threat to the health of consumers.

“The Minister of Health, and I understand, will always take one view, and I understand that he has to walk a particular line with this particular product. However, I want him to have the information. What I would like is that in a Cabinet discussion, they are all informed so they are not making uninformed decisions.

“My concern to the minister of Health is that the problem is not only looking at the legal issue. We do acknowledge, and it is said on the pack that there are risks associated with smoking. It's very clear. However, you can monitor that. We have to report to you every year on our operations. The ones you can't monitor for me, that's a greater risk”, Steele said.

Article 6 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) encourages governments to use price and tax measures to curb tobacco consumption.

Jamaica is a party to WHO's FCTC, having signed it in 2003 and ratified it in 2005.

In September, the new Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, will come into force.

The Ministry of Health said that Jamaica is taking steps to make the relevant ratification in conjunction with the new protocol.

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