At least 85 brands of Virginia cigarettes and 30 other tobacco products are being smuggled into Bangladesh, a health ministry survey says. The report also suggests that eight percent cigarettes sell without tax stamps, robbing government of huge tax revenues.

Similar is the case with bidis too. At least 12 brands of bidis also find their way to the country from India, illegally.

The survey report, of which has obtained a copy, is scheduled to be made public by the government on Sunday.

Much to the dismay of campaigners against the use of tobacco, the back-door entry of such products is only boosting the number of tobacco users.

Highest, 10 brands of cigarettes cross the border illegally from Myanmar, while cigarettes from Japan, Russia, Greece, the UAE, India, Korea, the USA, China, the EU, Germany, Switzerland, Vietnam, Indonesia and England also reach Bangladesh markets.

However, customs department seems blissfully unaware of such an illegal trade. “If we knew, we would have seized those consignments,” said a senior official of the department requesting not to be named as the study report was not yet made public.

The study found around 90 percent of the illegal bidis and about 45 percent of illegal zarda around the land ports, while two-thirds of the smuggled cigarettes and over 95 percent of smuggled churuts in divisional towns.

“It suggests smuggling through the airports and sea ports,” the study says, suggesting that only protecting borders will check counterfeit tobacco trade.

The research team also talked to lot many sellers and buyers.

About 37 percent sellers know it is illegal, but they sell because it earns them huge profits. The traders also said that they sell it openly, in full knowledge of the law enforcers.

Forty-eight percent users said they got hooked up to such foreign cigarettes as those tasted good, while 22 percent consider it adds to the social status.

They are not aware of the origin of such cigarettes.

The study observes that effectiveness of tax and pricing mechanisms, and enforcement of tobacco control laws could be jeopardised to a great extent, if illicit tobacco trade continued.

Besides, without an effective check on illicit tobacco trade, all measurers for tobacco control in Bangladesh were mere wishful thoughts, it said.

A recent The Lancet report recommended that reducing tobacco use should be the top priority for the governments trying to tackle the enormous and growing death toll from non-communicable diseases like cancers, heart diseases, strokes, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases.

World Health Organisation estimates that at least 57,000 people die of tobacco related illness in Bangladesh every year.

The study suggests the government to be prepared in advance to use the international protocol, being negotiated, to control illicit tobacco trade.

The research concludes that the department of customs needs to be strengthened with technical know-how and technological support, so that they could effectively track and trace the organised gang.

WHO says, more than five million people a year die worldwide from tobacco use, and about 80 per cent of all smokers live in developing countries.

Campaigners say they would ultimately be able to increase the tax on legally-sold cigarettes, once the black market menace was tackled.

“It’s a big business that organised gangs run since long,” said an expert involved in the survey procedure.

He recommended further in-depth study on illicit tobacco trade.