Police authorities are intensifying their crackdown against the illegal trade of tobacco products and have arrested two individuals for violating the graphic health warnings law in Brgy. Antipuluan, Narra, in southern Palawan.

The Palawan Police Provincial Office (PPPO) reported that Sallakbar Salli Kilong and Ivy Francisco Salvadico were apprehended on the morning of April 14 for transporting and distributing contraband tobacco products from Bataraza Proper to the municipality of Aborlan.

The Narra police station and 1st Police Mobile Force Company, 2nd Platoon seized six master cases of Fort, four master cases of New Berlin, and a Ford Ranger 2.0L pickup truck.

The apprehended suspects and confiscated items, valued at around P100,000, are currently in the possession of the Narra Municipal Police Station (MPS) for appropriate handling.

Cases for violating The Graphic Health Warnings Law, also known as Republic Act (RA) 10643, is being prepared against the suspects. They will be referred to the Palawan Provincial Prosecutor’s Office through inquest proceedings.

Since the start of April, law enforcement authorities have arrested eight individuals for breaking laws against untaxed cigarettes in three different incidents at two checkpoints in Puerto Princesa City and one in Narra, southern Palawan.

Philippine law mandates the inclusion of graphic health warnings on tobacco products. It requires tobacco companies to display pictures and text warnings covering at least 50% of the principal display areas of the cigarette packaging, with the goal of informing the public about the health risks associated with tobacco use.

The absence of mandated graphic health warnings on cigarettes could indicate that they are smuggled, and in such cases, the authorities have the power to seize and confiscate these products. The individuals responsible for their importation, distribution, or sale may face legal charges for violating the law as stipulated in RA 10643.

Every year, the Philippine government loses around P100 billion in revenue due to the sale of smuggled, unregistered, and unregulated cigarettes.

Illicit cigarettes also threaten the local tobacco industry, which supports 2.2 million Filipinos. According to data from the National Tobacco Administration (NTA), over 462,000 individuals are employed in tobacco production, while an additional 30,000 work in trading and manufacturing. The industry also has a distribution and marketing sector with almost 1.7 million workers serving over a million sari-sari stores across the Philippines.

Based on information provided by government agencies, it is believed that smuggled cigarettes in Palawan typically originate from nearby countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. These countries are known to produce them at a lower cost compared to those legally sold in the Philippines.

Although the incidence of illicit products varies across different provinces in the country, some areas report a significantly higher prevalence, indicating the widespread availability of illicit goods. In Palawan, for instance, the illicit tobacco trade nearly doubled from 24.8% in Q4 2021 to 48.1% in Q2 2022, which is almost on par with the major hotspots in Mindanao.