ISLAMABAD: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has praised the government for introducing a “health levy” on cigarettes and soft drinks and extended all possible assistance to support the government in implementing the tax.

“There is no shade of doubt that tobacco use is the leading cause of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) globally and also in Pakistan. WHO supports the government decision in adopting a health levy, which is in line with WHO recommendations for controlling NCDs, a health levy is essential for the progress needed in the area of NCD control and prevention,” said Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR), in a statement issued on Monday.

Dr Mandhari said monitoring the implementation of this decision was equally important.

The WHO Head of Mission in Pakistan, Dr Palitha Mahipala, has said that tobacco is a leading cause of death that kills one person every four seconds. He said more people are dying from NCDs — such as cancers, diabetes, and heart disease — than from all communicable diseases put together.

“Across the globe, NCDs kill nearly 41 million people each year, and 15m embrace premature mortality between the ages of 30 to 70 years. Almost 80pc of these deaths occur in lower and middle income countries,” he said.

NCDs cause 57pc of deaths in Pakistan, of which 29pc are from cardiovascular diseases, 8pc from cancers, 5pc from chronic respiratory diseases, 3pc from diabetes and 12pc from other NCDs.

WHO National Professional Officer Shahzad Alam Khan told Dawn that under the Sustainable Development Goals, by 2030 countries have to reduce premature mortality from NCDs by a third.

“Pakistan has made international commitments to reduce tobacco use by 30pc by 2025. Enhanced tobacco taxation and implementation of the health levy would make this target easier. I would suggest that the healthy levy should also be spent on health promotion,” he said.

Speaking at an event, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Dr Zafar Mirza said although the upcoming budget has not increased the allocation for health, money collected from the ‘health levy’ will be spent on the sector.

He said: “Rs20 will be imposed on each packet of cigarettes and Re1 would be collected from each bottle of fizzy drinks. That amount will be spent on the health sector.”

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2019