ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a media session urged the government to impose heavy taxation on tobacco to control growing consumption in the country.

The media session was organised by Human Development Foundation (HDF) on Wednesday at a local hotel. The session was joined in by partners from civil society like PakistanNationalHeartAssociation (Panah), Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc) and media persons.

The media session was held to highlight the growing need for enforcement of Health Levy bill on cigarettes.

HDF CEO Azhar Saleem said that tobacco use had a significant impact on the economic costs of a country, including the health care costs for treating tobacco related diseases and lost productivity of workforce.

The annual economic cost of smoking in Pakistan is as high as Rs143 billion, he said.

“Higher taxes on tobacco products create a win-win situation, as they not only increase revenues but improve public health as they lead to reduction in tobacco consumption.

He also said that countries like Philippines had implemented health tax on tobacco products which had resulted in a sustainable source of funding for the national health care programmes.

Sparc Executive Director Sajjad Cheema said it was their duty to save youth and children from tobacco. The most effective measure in this regard is the higher prices of tobacco products.

He said with higher taxes and the proposed health levy, the prices of cigarettes would increase which would limit access and ultimately reduce the overall consumption by all, particularly youth.

Malik Imran, Representative of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) has been rightly emphasizing that taxation is a proven effective measure to control the growing consumption of tobacco.

He repeatedly mentions that it has almost been a year that Health Levy bill was approved by the Cabinet yet it was not included in the Financial Bill 2019-2020 due to the hidden interests and misleading influence of tobacco industry.

Sadly, the government is still dragging its feet to implement it.

Waseem Saleem, Senior Economist at Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC) said that the large fiscal imbalances in Pakistan require greater tax revenues.

He said that the level of under-reporting of cigarette production in Pakistan had significant negative implications for government tax revenue.

Revenue loss due to undeclared production is estimated to be Rs31 billion while by including GST revenue, it becomes Rs37 billion.

He said that tobacco taxation would positively contribute to government revenues, ultimately promoting the government’s public health objectives.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2020