ISLAMABAD: While preparation of the national budget for the financial year 2020-21 is in its final stages, anti-tobacco advocates on Wednesday urged the government to increase taxes on cigarettes for improved health and economy.

In a pre-budget press conference held at National Press Club, they demanded at least Rs20 increase in the Federal Excise Duty (FED) for each slab of cigarettes to enhance revenue collection and discourage tobacco use among the citizens, especially the youth.

There are two tax slabs for cigarettes. An amount of Rs33 FED is imposed on cigarettes costing less than Rs90 per packet and Rs90 on cigarettes with a price of Rs90 and above.

The presser was jointly organised by Society for Protection of Rights of the Child (Sparc), Human Development Foundation (HDF) and Pakistan National Heart Association (Panah).

Anti-tobacco advocates say more taxes on tobacco industry will result in an improved health and economy

Sajjad Ahmed Cheema, the executive director of Sparc, said an increase in the exchange rate of dollar had an effect on prices of basic goods but prices of tobacco products remained the same.

He said civil society organisations wanted a better future for Pakistan and were seriously concerned why heavy taxes were not imposed on the tobacco industry.

“Heavy taxation on tobacco products will not only reduce tobacco consumption and its accessibility but will also keep minors away from tobacco.”

Mr Cheema said it would also reduce the health bill of the government besides contributing to a clean and healthy environment.

“We urge to the government to impose higher taxes on tobacco products to save our children.”

Azhar Saleem, the chief executive officer HDF, said the country was facing a severe shortage of funds to combat the coronavirus. Through changes in the taxation structure, the tobacco industry has been evading taxes at the cost of the lives of the citizens, he contended.

The government needs to keep in mind the growing inflation rate while finalising taxes on tobacco products for the fiscal year 2020-21. He urged the government to increase FED on tobacco products by Rs20 for each tax slab.

Sanaullah Ghuman, the secretary general of Panah, said the government needs to adopt a futuristic approach and channelise the additional revenues into situations where financial setbacks are faced such as the current pandemic of coronavirus.

“This additional revenue will lessen the financial crunch that the country is facing,” he said.

According to health experts and advocates, the shortage of funds faced by Pakistan to combat the coronavirus could be overcome by imposing more taxes on the tobacco products.

A representative of Tobacco Free Kids, Malik Imran, told Dawn that the anti-tobacco advocates had learnt that efforts were being made to arrange a meeting of the tobacco industry representatives with Prime Minister Imran Khan.

“Any such meeting will be a violation of the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). As section 5.3 of FCTC states that the tobacco industry cannot be involved in policy decisions and the budget is also a policy decision so such a meeting can influence the proposals of the budget,” he said.

Pakistan signed the FCTC in May 2004 and ratified it in the same year. FCTC is the first international treaty to provide a framework (and attendant obligations) for tobacco regulations.

According to WHO estimates, 44 million children aged 13 to 15 are smoking and many more pre-teens are likely to join the number.

Data from 39 countries show that around nine per cent of children aged 13 to 15 are now using e-cigarettes, as tobacco companies deliberately use ‘deadly’ tactics to target children and get them hooked on smoking.

Pakistan is among the top 15 countries with widespread tobacco consumption and higher rates of tobacco-related health issues.

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2020