ISLAMABAD: While preparations for the new financial year’s budget are going on, anti-tobacco advocates have urged the government to consider implementation of a health levy on tobacco products.
The revenue from the levy can be used for procuring Covid-19 vaccine for the citizens.
According to them, since June 2019, the exchequer has faced a loss of about Rs130 billion as a bill approved by the federal cabinet could not be included in the finance bill.
In 2019, the federal cabinet had approved the health levy of Rs10 on each packet of cigarette and Re1 on each bottle of 250ml sugary beverages. However, it could not be included in the finance bill.
Had bill sailed through parliament in June 2019, Pakistan would have collected a revenue of Rs130bn, says activist
Advocate Malik Imran, who has been striving for the passage of the health levy bill, told Dawn that the draft was pending at the Law Division for the last many months.
“The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) had sent the draft bill to the Law Division in December 2020. The Law Division has sought comments from the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) twice but time is slipping from our hands as the finance bill is finalised much earlier than it is tabled in parliament,” he said.
Mr Imran said the Law Division was analysing if the revenue from the health levy would be used for health related issues or be deposited in a consolidated fund. Moreover, it has concerns if health was a federal or provincial subject.
“It is irrelevant as a number of schemes such as universal health insurance and polio programme are federal subjects. If the bill would have been sailed through the parliament in June 2019, Pakistan would have collected a revenue of Rs130 billion. We need just Rs100 billion to procure Covid-19 vaccine for 100pc vaccineable population,” he said.
“The government gives licence to the tobacco industry to kill people for very small amount. It is a blood money and if the government cannot stop the tobacco use it should impose a health levy so that the amount would be spent on the health of people,” Mr Imran said.
Pakistan National Heart Association General Secretary Sanaullah Ghumman expressed the hope that the government would play its role to finalise the draft bill and get it approved from the cabinet again.
“It is same draft which was passed by the federal cabinet in 2019 but could not be included in the finance bill. We cannot understand why it is being delayed as law division had approved it in 2019,” he said.
Khalil Ahmed, a representative of a non-governmental organisation, Spark, which works for child rights, said teenagers were the major target of tobacco industry as they consume more cigarettes than adult and middle age people.
In November 2020, the Ministry of Finance had given a written assurance to the federal ombudsman that it would take necessary steps for the implementation of the health levy bill.
Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2021