Tuesday, September 14, 2004

25% of cigarettes in Britain 'toxic'

BEIJING - One in four cigarettes smoked in Britain is thought to be acounterfeit produced in illegal factories in China using the sweepings ofdirty workshop floors. The cheap but toxic cigarettes pack a lethal carcinogenic cocktail of highlevels of tar, nicotine and banned chemicals, The Sunday Telegraph reported. Wrapped in cellophane, the cheap packets of Regal and Silk Cut cigaretteslook like the real thing and even carry the British government's officialhealth warning. They should, however, carry a second warning: Counterfeited in China. Each year, British smokers buy billions of these counterfeit cigarettes fromshady middlemen, not knowing that they were produced in scruffy littleworkshops in China. Very often, what they are smoking is the sweepings of a dirty floor, saidthe report. It estimates that more than 100 billion counterfeit cigarettes are producedannually in the villages of a remote area on the border between Fujian andGuangdong provinces. The British Treasury estimates that Chinese counterfeits accounted for atleast a quarter of all the cigarettes sold in Britain last year, costing thetaxpayer £2.5 billion (S$6.6 billion) in lost revenue. 'The quality of fake packaging is improving all the time,' Mr Tim Lord,chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association in Britain, told "The Sunday Telegraph".

'Customers only realise their cigarettes aren't genuine because they tastebad or different, and that affects our reputation.' His association wants the government to cut the tax on cigarettes - 80 percent of the packet cost - to deter smokers from buying cheap alternatives. With Western governments worried about the damage caused both to smokers'health and to tax revenues, China is coming under growing internationalpressure to staunch the supply. The Chinese counterfeits contain high levels of tar, nicotine and bannedchemicals: a powerful, carcinogenic cocktail. During a trip to Beijing to tackle the problem last week, a senior Westernpolice officer managed to win a promise of cooperation from China's Ministryof Public Security. China is affected as well. The counterfeits are also sold into its vastdomestic market, costing the country considerable amounts in lost taxes -more than £1 billion last year. Beijing has introduced tough penalties for bootleggers, including amandatory sentence of three years' re- education at a labour camp for anyonefound in an illegal factory. So far, the authorities in Fujian have jailed more than 90 counterfeitersand sent 70 others to labour camps, said The Telegraph. Even so, the majority of counterfeit operations have carried on unaffected. You have been selected to receive the following wholesale information: