The Government is coming under heavy, even undue influence from tobacco companies which want locally manufactured cigarettes such as Beedi to be taxed and levies imposed on tobacco and alcohol to be lifted, officials revealed.

Representatives of tobacco companies met President Maithripala Sirisena last week and queried why hefty taxes were not being imposed on Beedi.

Meanwhile, the Presidential Task Force on Drug Prevention explained that while the incidence of cigarettes being smuggled into the country was on the rise owing to cigarettes being expensive locally, the number of cases being nabbed too was more as Chinese nationals are reported to be engaging in the secretive trade.

The Task Force however noted that there were instances where such contraband consignments slipped through the Customs owing to official complicity. Cigarettes are also brought into the country in the form of packages by tobacco company representatives via air freight luggage. The Task Force says that the tobacco industry was using media personnel known to them to provide publicity to exaggerate cases of such consignments being caught, to give credence to the view that it was heavy taxes imposed locally on cigarettes that had resulted in the inflow of illegal fags flooding the market.

“The tobacco companies are adopting various strategies, so much so that a fake fear psychosis with a threatening air has been created which has led to some Ministers also raising concerns calling for the heavy taxes imposed on tobacco and alcohol to be lifted. The community must stay strong without being swayed by such positions. Our aim is to reduce consumption,” a Task Force official said.

Elsewhere, it was recently revealed that a 40-foot long container (number SEGU4515240) carrying cigarettes and alcohol imported from Italy had been released by the Customs without being searched by inspectors following an order that had been communicated to them not to examine the consignment. RLJ