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Illicit cigarette sales in Indian cities: findings from a retail survey
  1. Rijo M John1,
  2. Hana Ross2
  1. 1 Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi, Kerala, India
  2. 2 School of Economics, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  1. Correspondence to Dr Rijo M John, Centre for Public Policy Research, Ernakulam, Kerala, 682020, India; rmjohn{at}


Objective To estimate illicit cigarette consumption in India using a modified and replicable method and compare it with estimates generated by the tobacco industry and by a commercial entity.

Methods The study employed a modified approach to cigarette pack analysis suitable for countries with prevalent single-cigarette sales. Empty cigarette packs generated by 1 day’s single-cigarette sales were collected directly from cigarette vendors in four large and four small cities covering the length and breadth of India. Ten areas were randomly selected in each city/town, and all shops selling cigarettes within 1 km of the central point were surveyed. A cigarette pack was classified as illicit if it had at least one of the following attributes: (a) a duty-free sign; (b) no graphic health warnings; (c) no textual health warnings; or (d) no mention of ‘price inclusive of all taxes’ or similar text.

Findings We collected 11 063 empty cigarette packs from 1727 retailers, and 2.73% of them were classified as illicit. The estimates varied substantially across locations with the highest prevalence of illicit packs in the town of Aizawl near the Bangladesh and Myanmar border (35.87%). The share of illicit cigarettes was found to be much higher (13.77%) among the cheapest cigarette brands. Illicit cigarettes are primarily distributed via formal stores rather than informal tea/pan shops.

Conclusion Our estimate of the illicit cigarette market share of 2.73% casts serious doubt on the tobacco industry estimate of 20% and Euromonitor’s estimate of 21.3%.

  • low/middle-income country
  • taxation
  • economics
  • illegal tobacco products

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  • Contributors Both authors made substantial contributions to the conception and design of the method as well as to the acquisition, analysis and interpretation of data. Both authors were involved in drafting and finalising the manuscript.

  • Funding The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.