Sanaullah Ghumman of Panah, Zahid Shafiq of HDF and Khalil Ahmed of Sparc speak at the press conference at the National Press Club on Tuesday. — White Star
Sanaullah Ghumman of Panah, Zahid Shafiq of HDF and Khalil Ahmed of Sparc speak at the press conference at the National Press Club on Tuesday. — White Star

ISLAMABAD: Anti-tobacco activists have urged the government to increase taxes on tobacco products as it is the only option to keep youth safe from the hazards of smoking.

At a press conference held at the National Press Club (NPC), Human Development Foundation (HDF) Programme Manager Zahid Shafiq said: “It is high time for the government to increase taxes on tobacco products to save youth from this menace. Currently, the government is facing a financial crunch due to the pandemic; the total economic cost of smoking in Pakistan was estimated at Rs143 billion in 2012.

“This includes direct healthcare costs and costs due to lost productivity, according to a 2018 report, titled Global Economic Survey of Smoking-Attributable Diseases. By levying a surcharge of Rs10 for each cigarette pack, the government can generate up to Rs40 billion in revenues. Moreover, if the government levies a surcharge of Re1 per 250ml of sugary drinks, around Rs8 to 10 billion more can be generated in revenues. These additional revenues can help in facilitating relief packages that the government has announced.”

Furthermore, he said in order to adjust inflation rates in the upcoming budget, the government needs to increase the current federal excise duty (FED) on tobacco products to at least Rs20. By doing so, revenues will increase, which can then be channeled into health initiatives of the government.

Pakistan National Heart Association (Panah) Secretary General Sanaullah Ghumman said the World Health Organisation (WHO) had confirmed that smokers were at a greater risk to Covid-19. The government has to focus on reducing the health burden caused by the pandemic.

“The health cost, incurred by the government and individuals due to consumption of tobacco products is an added burden in these testing times. The government needs to take strict action by increasing taxes on tobacco products, to cut down on health costs incurred due to its consumption,” he said.

According to Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc) Executive Director Sajjad Cheema, the most effective strategy to make tobacco products inaccessible for youth is to increase taxes, which will lead to increase in the prices of these products.

“This increase in prices will ultimately lead to tobacco products becoming inaccessible to youth. An average of 1,200 children become smokers on a daily basis,” he said, adding other forms of tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, electronic cigarettes, needed to be regulated as well.

“By regulating all tobacco products, more revenues can be generated to overcome financial distress, funding of health initiatives and relief packages for people,” he added.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2020