ISLAMABAD: Tobacco industry is again active to influence the opinions of policymakers and avoid higher taxes in the upcoming fiscal budget by claiming that illicit trade of cigarettes had increased, leading to revenue loss to the government.

This was stated by Human Development Foundation (HDF) CEO Azhar Saleem in an online press briefing session.

He said the pre-budget time was crucial for policymakers.

Malik Imran, representative of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK), said last year, in response to this claim of the industry, two research studies were jointly conducted by Human Development Foundation, Pakistan National Heart Association and Fikr-e-Fardan Organisation. Both studies showed the volume of illicit trade of cigarettes to be between 10% to 15%.

Recently, another study was conducted by ASTRA in 10 major cities of the country which revealed that the volume of illicit trade of cigarettes was 16%. The study was conducted over seven months with a total of 8,589 packs of cigarettes as samples.

In another study conducted by Social Policy and Development Centre, it was found that the industry under reported its total production and evaded taxes.

Azhar Saleem said tobacco industry was causing an economic burden of Rs192 billion per year. Tobacco use causes over 166,000 deaths annually in Pakistan and increases the financial and health burdens of the users.

He urged the government to increase taxes on tobacco products as this was a time and again tested as effective tobacco control measure throughout the world. Higher taxes on tobacco will lead to more revenues and limit the access of youth to this product, he added.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2020