Smuggling of foreign cigarettes into Telangana, especially into the State capital, seems to be rampant, with police or other law enforcement agencies doing precious little about it.

The recent bust of 503 smuggled cigarette cartons worth ₹1.03 crore by the Hyderabad Commissioner’s Task Force (North Zone) team, is just the tip of the iceberg, say pan shop owners.

According to officials, cigarette packs from countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, China, Korea, Nepal, Myanmar, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, are being smuggled into the country via various sea ports and airports, without paying excise duty. “This results in huge profit to dealers, sellers and even customers, who don’t wish to smoke out their money to buy Indian cigarettes, which are much costlier when compared to smuggled tobacco sticks,” said a senior officer with the Customs department.

The smuggled brands, which are easily available at any pan shop or grocery and popular among college-goers, include Paris Marlboro, Dunhill, Esse, Gudang Garam, Win, Mond and Black.

“They are 50 % to 70 % cheaper when compared to ITC’s Gold Flake, Bristol and Classic Wills cigarette packs. Even the quantity is high. Most of the smuggled cigarettes come in 20-piece packs,” said Pan Shop Owners Association of India general secretary Mohammed Salahuddin Dakhni.

He said that the smuggled foreign cigarettes were mostly made of low-grade tobacco with less shelf life, which was more harmful to the health.

According to him, such cigarettes make their way to Hyderabad, mostly via Delhi, Mumbai and Goa. “One can easily find them in any kirana shop in the State. The owners sell them for a high margin, even after knowing that they are smuggled goods. Hardly, any police team raids such shops,” Mr. Salahuddin said.

In the past couple of months, especially during the lockdown, the demand for those cigarettes had seen a steep rise, he said.

Customs officials, who spoke to The Hindu on condition of anonymity, maintain that the smuggling in Hyderabad through airports is less when compared to other major airports in the country. “Mostly, they are transported to the city by road. Local police should keep vigil on the movement of such goods,” an officer said.

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