Smuggled cigarettes sold widely

Customs seized stocks worth Rs 2 crore last week. The sale of high-priced foreign cigarettes thrives across Bengaluru, a Metrolife reality check shows

Many shops, such as this one on Brigade Road, sell foreign cigarettes.

Customs officials recently seized 10 lakh cigarettes worth Rs 2 crore smuggled from Bangladesh and Myanmar into Bengaluru.

Customs and legal metrology officials say cigarettes are regularly smuggled in.

Metrolife visited stores across the city and found foreign cigarettes freely available.

While only some legally allowed brands like Malbaro are displayed openly, others are stacked away in cartons at the back of the stores.

Commonly sold brands are Dunhill (Switch), Djarum Black from Indonesia, Esse Lights from Korea, Benson & Hedges Blue Gold, Benson & Hedges special filter, Davidoff white and gold, Esse Special Gold and L & M Red Label. 

A pack of 10 costs between Rs 200 and Rs 350. A box of 20 packs costs between Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,800, with the box rate per cigarette being slightly lower than the pack rate.

The price of a single cigarette ranges from Rs 15 to Rs 30. The pricing is arbitrary, and shops gauge customers and then quote prices.

Foreign cigarettes are traded in bulk in City Market, Shivajinagar, Kammanahalli and Banaswadi areas. They are sold in retail on Church Street, Brigade Road, Indiranagar, Ulsoor, R T Nagar, Kammanahalli and Banaswadi, just to mention a few locations.

“We have a tie-up with agencies overseas and agencies here. Since it does not come through the official channels, no tax is paid on it, and no MRP rules apply,” says a retail trader on Brigade Road.

 The prices are high not because of stiff taxes, but because the competition is scattered (not all shops sell smuggled cigarettes), and traders can make good profits. Foreigners visiting Bengaluru and students form the bulk of customers.

How it is smuggled in

A senior customs official says foreign cigarettes are shipped in or sent with people travelling to India. “When it is sent manually, it is distributed among people commissioned to do the job. The number a person carries may be small but it all adds up and the total quantity is huge. Many people are employed to smuggle in cigarettes. They make at least four or five trips a year,” he explains. When people permanently shift residence to India, they bring in huge cartons. “They have to produce a certificate saying they are permanently shifting residence. Along with furniture and household items, they bring in cigarettes in large quantities,” adds the official.

They violate retailing rules
The Department Of Legal Metrology says cigarettes are classified as a packed commodity. “The six mandatory declarations on any packed commodity is manufacturer’s name and address, month of packing, name of commodity, net content, MRP inclusive of all taxes and consumer complaint number, email and address in case an aggrieved customer wants to write in. Imported cigarettes don’t have any declarations,” says the officer. The packs don’t carry the name and address of the importer. “We recently conducted raids in 166 places and booked 27 where we found smuggled cigarettes,” she says.

Brands on sale
Among the brands sold in Bengaluru are Esse Lights,Davidoff White and GoldDjarum Black, Dunhill (Green), Benson & Hedges,L & M Red Label. They are priced at between
Rs 200 and Rs 350 for a pack of 10.

Legal metrology penalties 
Selling a packed commodity without mention of the maximum retail price and other mandatory details invites punishment.
*Rs 5,000 for not making mandatory declarations.
*Repeated offenders face up to six months in jail.

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