ISLAMABAD: The production of cigarettes surged by at least 14.5 per cent with a total worth of over Rs25 billion in the first six months of the current fiscal year, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics reported.

The official data showed a significant increase in production and sale of cigarettes contrary to government’s claims of discouraging the use of tobacco products in the country.

The manufacturing of cigarettes, their sales and stock have increased by 9.4pc and 19.2pc, respectively, in Punjab during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Planning and Development Department of Punjab.

Anti-tobacco activists have urged the government to discourage the use of tobacco among the youth by imposing additional taxes on the product and ensure strict implementation of the anti-tobacco laws in the country.

Malik Imran Ahmed, country head of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the use of tobacco products, especially cigarettes, was increasing in the country due to low taxes and poor implementation of the laws.

In a statement, he said the government should use the tool of price and taxes to discourage the production and sales of cigarettes as suggested by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

WHO has recommended taxes up to 75pc of the retail price of tobacco products to discourage its use.

He said multinational companies would launch a campaign before every budget for reduction in the federal excise duty despite the fact that production and sales of their cigarettes were registering a significant increase.

He said the cigarettes consumption figures stand at a whopping 86.6 billion per year while the figures by the industry remain restricted to 55 billion only to evade the tax.

The official statistics negated the stance of foreign cigarette companies that there is a decline in their production and sales of cigarettes because of the increase in the illicit trade.

A recent research study has revealed that Pakistan was bearing an annual $1.3 billion financial burden due to different diseases caused by tobacco products, including cancer and heart diseases.

Pakistan is among 15 states bearing the worst impacts of smoking related health problems, according to the study.

The data showed that 22 million Pakistanis consumed tobacco related products daily.

Mr Ahmed said the multinational companies and certain interest groups were misleading the government against additional taxes like health levy on tobacco products to discourage their use though it can help the government collect around Rs40 billion per annum additional revenues from the tobacco products.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2021

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