ISLAMABAD: Human Development Foundation (HDF) has suggested the government to generate funds by regulating all tobacco products.

According to a press release, HDF Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Azhar Saleem said in an online media session that the government has announced relief for vulnerable segments of the society, especially, labourers and daily wage workers as a top priority of the government. “Taxing the non-essential products should be the way forward. Last year, the cabinet had approved a bill that would have raised Rs10 per cigarette pack and Re1 per 250ml bottle of sugary drinks.

This would have earned the country about Rs50 billion in revenue, which could be used for the healthcare system,” he said.

He added that tobacco use in itself is an epidemic recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and claims over 160,000 lives in Pakistan alone. The time is very relevant to minimise consumption of tobacco products as tobacco consumers are 14 times at a greater risk of becoming a victim of Covid-19, he said.

HDF Campaign Leader Zahid Shafiq highlighted that Pakistan was one of the biggest consumers of smokeless tobacco products with approximately 9.6 million users currently.

According to a study, most of cases of oral cancer are a direct result of smokeless tobacco consumption and 58pc of head and neck cancer cases worldwide have been reported from South and Southeast Asia.

However, this industry has not been regulated under the tobacco control laws of Pakistan.

If the government regulates this industry and taxes smokeless tobacco products, the way it is done by other neighboring countries, further substantial revenues can be generated from this source.

The current global trend is shifting towards electronic cigarettes and vaping products, mostly among the youth. These products are also not regulated in Pakistan.

He urged the government to take necessary steps towards tobacco control and implement tax surcharge on all forms of tobacco products. This is a win-win situation for both the economy and health of the country.

To save our population during this pandemic, it is necessary that the government regulates all tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes to generate funds for tackling the growing disease and health burden in these testing times, he said.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2020