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ISLAMABAD: After failing to get any result during the previous government, tobacco control advocates are hopeful that the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan will not only take steps to increase revenue collection from the tobacco industry but will also protect the citizens against hazards of smoking.

At present, the country is facing an annual loss of around Rs30 billion due to low taxes on the tobacco industry while health of the youth is at a stake.

“Imran Khan and Finance Minister Asad Umar had on a number of occasions assured us that they would support our efforts to save the health of the youth because Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) speaks more about the youth. The previous government announced to enhance the size of the pictorial health warning from 40pc to 85pc of the cigarette packet in 2014 but the promise was never fulfilled.

Say previous govt had announced that it will enhance size of pictorial health warning on cigarette packet but failed

“Moreover, the previous government introduced a third-tier of taxation due to which revenue generation from the tobacco sector decreased causing a huge loss to the exchequer,” said National Coordinator for Coalition for Tobacco Control Pakistan Khurram Hashmi while talking to Dawn.

Another good thing is that the focus of the government is on increasing the revenue, he added.

Tobacco is the best product which can be used for increasing the revenue by imposing taxes because an increase in its prices also safeguards the health of the citizens, he said.

“The PTI chairman made a number of promises with us when he was in the opposition. So now we hope that he would look into the issue and increase the prices. Moreover, Mr Khan has been working against cancer and tobacco is the major reason of cancer in Pakistan,” Mr Hashmi said.

Former minister for National Health Services (NHS) Saira Afzal Tarar on May 31, 2014, announced that she would change the pictorial warning and increase its size from 40pc to 85pc of the packet within a year.

However, in early 2015, the high commissioner of a foreign country along with representatives of a tobacco company held a meeting with the then finance mister Ishaq Dar. After that the implementation of the announcement about the health warning on cigarette packets was stopped.

Similarly, the ministry of NHS suggested increasing the tax on cigarettes with the minimum tax being Rs44 (for a pack of 20 cigarettes).

At that time, there were two tiers of taxation. But in the 2017-18 budget a third tier was introduced due to which the tax dropped to as low as Rs16 on a pack of 20 cigarettes.

Even early this year, the ministry of NHS moved a letter to the then minister for finance Dr Miftah Ismail suggesting him to take measures to increase the prices of cigarettes on a priority basis.

It was informed that according to a study a uniform specific excise tax that accounted for Rs44 per pack of 20 cigarettes could reduce the number of smokers by 13.2pc and increase the revenue by Rs39.5bn.

It was also claimed that it would reduce 0.65 million premature deaths caused by smoking besides preventing 2.55 million youth from taking up smoking.

However, once again the suggestion was ignored.

Pakistan National Heart Association (PNHA) General Secretary Sanaullah Ghumman told Dawn that his association was quite hopeful that the new government would increase taxes on tobacco.

“We had meetings with Asad Umar in the past and have contacted him again after he assumed the charge of the finance minister. He told us that he was aware of all the issues.

He said three years ago tobacco companies used to pay Rs114bn annual tax but after the introduction of the third tier the tax dropped to Rs79bn. He said this information had been provided to a special committee of parliament which was looking into issues related to the tobacco revenue.

Mohammad Faisal, who heads a non-governmental organisation, Fikr-i-Farda, told Dawn that the previous government succumbed to the pressure of tobacco companies.

Dr Ziauddin, the technical head of the health ministry’s tobacco control cell, said the ministry had made all possible efforts to increase taxes on tobacco.

“Now, new minister Aamir Mehmood Kiyani will hopefully play his role to ensure that our youth are saved from the hazards of smoking,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2018