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World health agency supports imposition of ‘sin tax’

Updated December 10, 2018

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WHO official says sin tax on tobacco, sugar and beverages will help to reduce diseases like cancer, asthma and TB. — File photo
WHO official says sin tax on tobacco, sugar and beverages will help to reduce diseases like cancer, asthma and TB. — File photo

PESHAWAR: The World Health Organisation has welcomed the government’s decision to impose ‘sin tax’ on consumers of tobacco, sugar and beverages and divert proceeds from the levy for financing healthcare activities to improve patients’ care.

“We appreciate the move because it would lead to improvement in healthcare of the people. Several countries around the world are charging such taxes and use them for making the healthcare activities effective,” Dr Nima Saeed Abid, the WHO’s acting chief in Pakistan, told Dawn. He said that the world health agency had been supporting countries to ensure better health services and improve lifestyle of the people.

“We have been recommending such taxes and the money thus collected should be spent on public health, such as promoting nutrition, immunisation and prevention of non-communicable, cardiovascular and other diseases,” he said.

WHO official says it will help to reduce diseases like cancer, asthma and TB

Dr Nima said that it was the recommendation of WHO to impose taxes on drinks and tobacco to divert the amount and channelise it towards improvement of public health interventions.

Asked if his organisation supported the federal government’s move to legislate on the ‘sin tax’ collection on stuff harmful to the public health, he said that it was extremely useful for the people of Pakistan as it was meant to reduce use of tobacco and safeguard people from its ill-effects.

“It can lead to promotion of public health and healthy life style and we support the move completely,” he said.

Last week, Federal Minister for Health Aamir Mehmood Kiani told reporters that a draft bill would be presented in the parliament to impose ‘sin tax’ on certain items that were injurious to health and the proceeds would be used to improve healthcare of the people.

The WHO’s official said that Pakistan’s efforts to reduce use of tobacco would lessen burden of diseases and would cut down number of diseases, such as cancer, asthma and tuberculosis etc.

Dr Nima also spoke about the long delay in the passage of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Prohibition of Smoking/Tobacco Products and Protection of Non-Smokers Health Bill, 2016 and said that it was up to the government to do the legislation. “The government has its own way of doing things and we recommend the passage of the law the sooner the better,” he added.

Health officials in the province, however, said that the WHO provided technical assistance in drafting the law and wanted its approval from the provincial assembly. The proposed piece of legislation introduced in the provincial assembly in September 2016 is yet to see light of the day, owing to stiff resistance from the lawmakers, who are associated with tobacco production, trade and manufacturing of cigarettes.

“The bill has been sent to select committee of the provincial assembly to review it in consultation with the farmers. It has not been sent back yet,” said the health officials.

They said that a strong lobby among the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf blocked passage of the bill. “PTI ministers and MPAs are among the beneficiaries of production, trade and manufacturing of tobacco products due to which the law has been consigned to dustbin,” they added.

The health officials said that WHO was urging the provincial government to pass the law to protect people from the health hazards associated with smoking and use of other products of tobacco.

Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2018