…pleased with GRA’s efforts to stamp out cigarette smuggling The Demerara Tobacco Company (DEMTOCO) has expressed satisfaction with efforts being undertaken by the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) to stamp out smuggling of tobacco products, given the effects that illicitly traded products have on legitimate players in the market.Speaking at a media engagement the company hosted last week, Head of its Legal and External Affairs Division, Christopher Brown, pointed out that DEMTOCO is very concerned about smuggling of cigarettes, and the effects it has been having globally. He commended the GRA for the recent “major find”, wherein items, including cigarettes, were confiscated after it was found that the requisite taxes and fees were not paid.“That’s the sort of issues that we are concerned about, because the illicit trade of cigarettes is a major business across the globe and across the region,” he declared.According to Brown, cigarette smuggling has become a huge issue, and neighbouring countries such as Suriname and Panama have been grappling with of recent times.“(Of) every 10 cigarettes consumed in either of those countries, seven are illicit. So that’s seven [brands that] don’t pay their taxes, and nobody knows the conditions under which they are produced. And it is generally the view that a lot of the operators who are participants in the illicit trade of cigarettes are also participating in the arms race, drug trade, and are part of the overall organised criminal enterprise right across the global.So where we can stamp out illicit activity, it would also come to the benefit of the country as it relates to the national security stability as well,” Brown posited.He said DEMTOCO is supportive of such actions by the authorities, and hopes robust efforts continue to protect the revenue of the Guyana Government.He mentioned that the GRA instituting a new tax stamp system as a measure to curb the illicit trade is a welcome move.“They have started it for alcohol, and they are also in the early days of introducing it for tobacco products. We are fully supportive of that initiative that they have brought on board, in terms of insisting and ensuring there is an arrangement in place to indicate that all tobacco products that are sold and distributed would have a requirement to have a tax stamp on it, to indicate that those products are legitimate and that they have paid all the revenues that are applicable,” he explained.Measures such as this, Brown added, seek to ensure that there is a properly regulated tobacco industry.While DEMTOCO had initially raised concerns about certain aspects of the then draft legislation, the company has since moved into compliance mode after the legislation was passed in Parliament and assented to by the President.However, Brown noted that there are some issues that the company needs clarification on, in order to be compliant with the new laws. These issues have to do with the packaging and labelling of its product, and as such, the company is seeking clarity on the timelines given by Government to become compliant.He also noted that the company is awaiting the roll out of the public sensitisation campaign which the Public Health Ministry had said would be done before enforcement of the laws.A meeting is expected to be held between the company and the Ministry sometime in the near future to discuss these issues.Brown has said DEMTOCO is cognisant that it markets and distributes a controversial product, but the company believes that it has been responsible in terms of effectively communicating the effects of consumption of its product.“We seek always to market our products to adults who have already taken the decision to consume the product. So we are not in the business of winning souls for smoking; but we remain a legitimate product, and we believe that once we remain a legitimate company in terms of marketing and distributing such a product, we have the opportunity to relate to the industry and the Government as it relates to the development of policies that impact the company,” Brown, Head of the Legal and External Affairs Division, posited.With the introduction of tobacco legislation, Guyana has now joined regional neighbours Jamaica, Trinidad and Suriname as the leading countries within the Caribbean to have put in place such comprehensive laws.