ISLAMABAD: Civil society activists on Monday criticised the government for not imposing a sin tax on cigarettes and sugary beverages in the amended money bill tabled in the National Assembly last week.

Speaking at a news conference at the National Press Club, they urged the government to impose the sin tax to protect the health of the younger generation.

Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child Executive Director Sajjad Cheema said the increase in the price of the dollar has had the effect of an increase in the price of basic goods.

“However, the price for tobacco products is still the same which makes them easily affordable for minors. We are seriously concerned about why heavy taxes are not being imposed on the tobacco industry in Pakistan,” he said.

Mr Cheema said the imposition of heavy taxes on tobacco products will decrease tobacco consumption and health bills and will lead to a clean and healthy environment for future generations.

“We urge the government to increase tobacco taxes to save our children,” he said.

Human Development Foundation CEO retired Maj Gen Azhar Saleem said the use of tobacco is one of the five main leading causes for the outbreak and prevalence of non-communicable diseases.

“Pakistan spends around Rs140 billion every year on tobacco related diseases, which is a huge liability on the health sector. Preventative measures including the imposition of excise in the form of sin tax can help eradicate the spread of a tobacco epidemic in the country,” he said.

On Dec 4 last year, Minister for National Health Services (NHS) Aamer Mehmood Kiani told a public health conference that the PTI government was committed to increasing the health budget to 5pc of the GDP and that one of the options will be imposing a sin tax on tobacco products and sugary beverages. He said the money collected from the tax will be diverted to the health budget.

World Health Organisation Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had visited Pakistan in the second week of the current month and appreciated the government’s decision to impose the sin tax.

He had also thanked Mr Kiani, who was sitting next to him at an event, for his efforts to impose the tax.

Mr Saleem said that as per the claims of the health minister, the sin tax or health levy was to be imposed on tobacco products but he had observed a minor increase in taxes on tobacco products in the financial bill.

“This means the government does not prioritise the health of the young generation over the revenue of the tobacco industry”, he said.

The media was informed that if the government eliminates the lowest tax tier and brings the FED of the lower tier to Rs40, it will raise additional tobacco tax revenue of Rs18.4 billion, a 20.9pc increase from the current tobacco tax revenue.

As an added advantage, it will reduce cigarette consumption by 12.6pc and reduce the number of smoking-related deaths in current and future smokers by 3.1pc, a reduction of about 350,000 people every year.

Technical head of the Ministry of NHS Tobacco Control Cell Dr Mohammad Ziauddin told Dawn that on the directions of the minister, a proposal was sent to the finance ministry for the imposition of the sin tax.

“We are not aware what happened after that and why the sin tax was not included in the finance bill,” he said.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2019