KARACHI: Highlighting the burden of tobacco-related deaths in the country, speakers at a dialogue held on Monday called for imposing heavy taxes on tobacco products to discourage their use and to provide improved health facilities for tobacco-related diseases.

The event organised by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc) was held in connection with World No Tobacco Day.

The society says it is campaigning to make Karachi a smoke-free city through the implementation of the Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-smokers Health Ordinance 2002.

Speaking about the campaign, Dr Qaiser Sajjad of the Pakistan Medical Association said the country had been seeing an increase in tobacco-related deaths for the past many years. “The recent statistics of the tobacco control cell of the Ministry of National Health Services showed that tobacco is causing death of around 170,000 persons every year while almost 23.9 million adults currently use tobacco in any form in the country,” he said.

The Covid-19 pandemic, he pointed out, made everyone realise that the country’s existing resources were insufficient to meet any health emergency.

The revenue generated from the health taxes could have been utilised for the pandemic control and guarantee better health of our people, he said.

Shumaila Muzammil, the project manager at Sparc, shared that Pakistan was one of the 15 countries worldwide with a heavy burden of tobacco-related health issues. She said around 1,200 Pakistani children between the ages of six and 15 years took up smoking daily, citing estimates of the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2015.

“Pakistan’s 50pc population consists of children, who are suffering from effects of direct and second-hand smoking,” she said.

Seemab Asif, assistant professor at St Patrick’s College, said the administration in coordination with Sparc had successfully made the premises of schools and colleges smoke-free. “The society also organised a session with the school management to create awareness.”

Muhammad Kashif Mirza, the manager media communication at Sparc, informed the audience as to how the high mortalities due to tobacco consumption were damaging economy and said tobacco-related diseases had been causing a loss of Rs615bn to the national exchequer per annum, citing estimates of a latest report by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics.

“This amounts to 1.6pc of the country’s GDP that experts believe could be reduced significantly by imposing health taxes on tobacco products. The government of Sindh has made no progress on introducing its own law to control tobacco smoking while the federal government has been delaying formulation of rules of business for a long time.”

The government should have considered the growing inflation rate while finalising taxes on tobacco products for fiscal year 2021-22, he said.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2021

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