LAHORE: Different humanitarian organisations of the country in an online media session on Monday discussed the impact of tobacco use on the economy and suggested surcharge on [tobacco] products to generate more revenues for the government.

Human Development Foundation (HDF) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Azhar Saleem said tobacco use had a significant impact on the economic cost of a country, including the healthcare cost for treating tobacco-related diseases and lost productivity of workforce.

He said the annual economic cost of smoking in Pakistan amounted to Rs143 billion. Among the tobacco control steps, increase in taxes on tobacco products has been the most effective measure.

Explaining the taxation structure on tobacco products in Pakistan, he stated that through changes in the tax regime, the tobacco industry had been evading taxes at the cost of the lives of people. The government needs to keep in mind the growing inflation rate while finalising the taxes on tobacco products for fiscal year 2020-2021.

He urged the government to increase federal excise duty (FED) on tobacco products by Rs20 for each slab of tobacco tax structure.

Aga Khan University Pulmonologist Dr. Javed Khan said the disease burden on public health departments and hospitals had increased manifold due to Covid-19.

He said tobacco consumption is the major cause of non-communicable diseases in Pakistan. People who smoke cigarettes have already compromised the health of their lungs and thus are at increased risk of contracting Covid-19. This will further increase the burden of public health institutions in times of this pandemic.

He urged the government to take into consideration the health of its people and increase the taxes on tobacco products, including a surcharge of Rs10 per pack of cigarette and Rs1 per 250ml of sugary drinks to generate more funds for tackling the current pandemic.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2020