Authorities have seized some P200-million worth of fake cigarettes in Valenzuela City as unscrupulous traders tried to fill the gap left by dwindling supply of tax-paid sticks amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
The raid conducted on Thursday (May 1) afternoon by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and Valenzuela’s Philippine National Police (PNP) on a warehouse at the Cabral Industrial Park yielded 280 master cases (140,000 packs) of assorted counterfeit cigarettes.
The warehouse was allegedly registered under JLA Plastic Marketing. It had two caretakers—Juanito Arcilla and Lin Lianci alias Simon Lin, both Filipino-Chinese.
Other smuggled items, including five boxes of supposedly anti-coronavirus medicine from China, were also seized, tobacco industry sources said. The medicine boxes contained 500 capsules each.
The sources said illegal traders could be stocking up on supply to take advantage of shortage of tax-paid cigarettes as a result of lockdowns.
From April 1 to 15, law enforcement agencies conducted six raids that yielded 1,275 master cases of smuggled cigarettes worth almost P1 billion, sources said.
While commercial establishments can still sell cigarettes during the lockdown, the operations of cigarette factories ground to a halt because their workers were covered by the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez this week said that manufacturing of tobacco products and other non-essential goods could resume under a less restrictive general community quarantine (GCQ).
“After more than a month of ECQ, retailers and wholesalers are now running out of cigarettes to sell, which forces smokers to turn to illegal trade,” industry sources said.
The sources cited an internally funded survey jointly conducted by global advocacy and lobby group Consumer Choice Center (CCC) and UK-based polling firm Populus Ltd. across the Asia-Pacific region last March.
The survey found that “vast majority of Filipinos believe people will circumvent any restrictions on consumer goods like cigarettes and alcohol, under the ECQ, and seek out illicit products instead, further increasing the risk of catching COVID-19.”
For cigarettes in particular, “eight out of every 10 Filipino adults (81 percent) believe that if the sale of tobacco was banned during a lockdown, it is likely that people would break this rule to obtain these products,” survey results showed.
“Our research clearly shows that people will still smoke and will likely go to great lengths to find alternative supply whenever theirs runs dry,” the survey said.
This puts “lives at risk via unnecessary movement, increasing the chances of contracting and transmitting COVID-19.”
“However well-intentioned people may be in proposing bans on the sale or manufacturing of legal products, the message from the research is very clear: that the public believes such measures undermine efforts to reduce contact and the spread of the virus, while enriching transnational syndicates and organized crime,” CCC managing director Fred Roeder said.
Edited by TSB
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