Eromosele Abiodun

A few months after the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth International (ERA/FoEN) notified the federal government that Philip Morris International was flooding the country with the “unlicensed, tax-not-paid” cigarettes, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has raised the alarm over attempts by another tobacco manufacturing company to begin the distribution of illegally imported cigarettes in the country.

This followed the discovery of the planned deployment of 500 Mond flavoured cigarettes hawker boxes in Kano State from today.

The move is in direct opposition to government’s effort to curb the influx of illicit cigarettes, and resuscitating the nation’s economy discouraging the importation of goods that are sufficiently produced locally.

THISDAY investigation revealed that the shipment was received last weekend by the Dubai-based Gulhabar Tobacco International, distributors of the cigarette brand.

Following checks, the industry regulator, SON, observed that the company/distributors do not have the SONCAP Certificate (SC), a mandatory Customs clearance document which is issued by the SON. Cigarette is one of SONCAP-regulated products.

“In addition to the product being a flavoured cigarette, the non-possession of the SONCAP certificate by the company is clearly in breach of the National Tobacco Control Act (NTCA) 2015 on advertising and promotion.

“Flavoured cigarettes are a type of contraband cigarette and illicit trade products. The products are manufactured with sweet fruity flavours that have a powerful appeal to children and completely mask the smell of tobacco. They have a strong allure for young people and are capable of encouraging underage smoking as well as initiating non-smokers into the act, “said an official of SON who do not want his name in print.

SON and other regulatory agencies in the country have constantly expressed their determination to rid the market of flavoured cigarette brands and stem the importation of the product by faceless marketing companies that are not registered in the country.

This move, experts believe, is aimed at protecting the few indigenous tobacco companies that manufacture the legally permitted menthol brand from unfair competition.

Also, apart from some of these illicit tobacco brands being unregulated and substandard, their importers often evade tax thereby denying government of the much-needed revenue.

“Protection of the local companies helps boost tax revenue government generate from them, “said a top player in the industry.

SON, in particular, has raided outlets where such illegally imported goods are sold in the country.

Also, in recent times, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) confiscated substandard goods and contrabands as well as ensured that illegal importation of food products like fish is discouraged so as to boost self- sufficiency in local production.