IT is sad to note that while focusing on the travails of the local tobacco industry, there is little by way of raising the ethical aspects of the use of tobacco products. The other day a Senate committee lamented how Pakistan’s tobacco exports had been badly affected by a system where growers are compelled to sell their produce to locally stationed traders, as the imposition of a hefty duty means that it is difficult for them to compete internationally. The world over, the trend is to make smoking a prohibitively expensive habit, to discourage smokers while also raising revenues for the state. This strategy, however, is not fully realised in Pakistan, where losses incurred on illicit and smuggled cigarettes are said to run into the billions. Indeed, there is recognition of the fact — including by manufacturers themselves, who presumably stay quiet in the interests of Big Tobacco — that the market is flooded with cigarettes on which duty has not been paid, while the FBR has conducted drives to crack down on the illegal sale of these and other tobacco products. But such action is generally of symbolic value amid pressure on the government to stay abreast of the international effort to stub out cigarettes.
It is this aspect of the tobacco industry that is not receiving the attention it deserves in Pakistan, ie the hazards of smoking and regulating the sale of the product. True, there have been welcome proposals, such as the imposition of a sin tax on cigarettes. But there is much that can be done apart from this measure, starting with implementing the ban on the sale of loose cigarettes, especially to children, and raising awareness that health costs would be substantially reduced if individuals refrained from lighting up. The message is that there will be little progress so long as lawmakers view the tobacco industry purely in terms of revenue generation, instead of taking a more holistic view of the problem.
Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2019