ISLAMABAD: After getting confirmation from Iran that 10-stick packets of cigarettes were not manufactured there, the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) has decided to seek help from the Ministry of Information Technology to stop online sale of such packets which are banned in Pakistan.
Moreover, letters have been written to provinces to stop the sale of the cigarette packets.
Technical head of Tobacco Control Cell at the ministry of NHS Dr Ziauddin told Dawn that he had received complaints that though sale and manufacturing of cigarette packets having 10 sticks was banned in Pakistan these packets were selling online.
“We checked and confirmed that not only these packets were being sold through the internet but also in the peripheries of provinces, especially in the interior of Sindh. However, in Pakistan the sale of cigarette packets having less than 20 sticks is banned. This is aimed at keeping the prices high and discouraging the youth from purchasing it,” he said.
“As the health warning on the packets is in Persian and English languages, we contacted the health ministry of Iran to know if these were manufactured there. But the Iranian representative Dr Behzad told us that the pack of 10 cigarettes, brand of which is also sold in Pakistan, was not being manufactured in Iran,” he said.
Dr Zia recalled that last year Pakistan Tobacco Company (PTC) had contacted the ministry of NHS to allow it to manufacture packets of cigarettes having 10 sticks to sell them in Gulf countries and earn foreign exchange for the country.
“We had objected to it because of fear that those packets would be sold in Pakistan as well. We have written letters to provinces to take action against the sale. Moreover, we have also decided to contact the IT ministry to take action against it,” he said.
When contacted, a representative of PTC Madeeh Pasha said the company had dropped the plan to manufacture cigarette packets having 10 sticks because the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) had banned such packets.
“Currently, machinery is not available in Pakistan to pack 10 sticks so I am sure that these packets are being smuggled and sold in the market,” he said.
Health levy termed remarkable development
Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza in a statement said the tax on cigarettes and fizzy drinks was a remarkable development and the additional amount so collected would be spent in the health sector.
Under the instructions of Prime Minister Imran Khan, it was agreed that the enhancement of the Federal Excise Duty (FED) on cigarettes, fizzy drinks and sugary drinks would be considered as a health levy and the revenue generated would be earmarked for the health sector, he said.
Dr Mirza said the PTI in its election manifesto had pledged that the health budget would be doubled by the year 2020. With the enhanced revenue in the Finance Act 2019 being earmarked to health, there will be even greater increase in the health budget.
In the Finance Act 2019, minimum FED on lower tier of packs of 20 cigarettes has been increased from Rs25 to Rs33 and on upper tier has also been increased from Rs90 to Rs104. The additional tax revenue will be earmarked for the health sector over and above the already allocated resource.
Tobacco is the biggest killer causing death of around 160,189 people in Pakistan every year. Almost 15.6 million adults currently smoke tobacco in the country whereas around 1,200 Pakistani children between the age of 6 and 15 start smoking every day. Moreover, the economic cost of smoking amounts to 143.20 billion rupees. This includes direct costs related to healthcare expenditures and indirect costs related to lost productivity due to early mortality and morbidity whereas consumption of fizzy and sugary drinks are contributing to the rise in non-communicable diseases, said the statement.
Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2019