Call for steps to curtail tobacco lobby’s influence on legislative bodies

Published January 10, 2021
The government should take strict measures to curtail influence of the tobacco lobby on legislative bodies and avoid giving tax benefits to multinational companies. — File photo
The government should take strict measures to curtail influence of the tobacco lobby on legislative bodies and avoid giving tax benefits to multinational companies. — File photo

ISLAMABAD: The government should take strict measures to curtail influence of the tobacco lobby on legislative bodies and avoid giving tax benefits to multinational companies.

This was revealed in a research study, ‘Regional tobacco tax regime and its implications for health’ conducted and released by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) on Saturday.

The study said laws against tobacco products, including cigarettes, should be implemented in letter and spirit as well as without any discrimination. Apart from this, the claim of tobacco companies regarding the illicit trade of cigarettes should be rejected and no favours should be offered to them in taxation, it said.

The ruling elite should also keep distance from the tobacco industry, the study suggested, adding it is very important because the industry would use it as a vehicle of their influence and interest.

It said in such circumstances, the tobacco lobby becomes powerful enough to demand tax relaxations in the name of illicit trade.

The authorities suspect figure fudging to evade tax, it said. While consumption figures stand at a whopping 86.6 billion cigarettes per year, the official figures by the industry remain restricted to 55 billion only. The rest is usually blamed on illicit trade but the volume of illegal trade is not more than 9pc, it said.

Therefore, the average price of a cigarette pack in Pakistan remains the lowest in the region, thereby affecting not only the revenue generation by the tobacco industry but also causing severe health repercussions, it said.

The study suggested that a uniform tax system needs to be enforced at all levels so as to control tax evasion, urging the government to abolish the tier system that was providing tax evasion opportunities to tobacco companies. The single tiered system would help not only strengthen the revenue generation mechanism but also the problem of illicit trade could be dealt with effectively.

In Pakistan, there are 22 million tobacco users, wherein 60pc are adolescents. Resultantly, 1.5 million cases of oral cancer are reported by Pakistan Medical Association on a yearly basis.

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2021

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