ISLAMABAD: Anti-tobacco advocates have expressed disappointment over the fact that taxes on cigarette packs have not been raised in the proposed federal budget for the year 2021-22.

Despite a hike in prices of all products, including edible items, the tobacco industry did not increase prices of cigarettes during the last five years which is proof that it was involved in tax evasion, they said.

Advocate Malik Imran, who has been involved in efforts to protect youth from the hazards of tobacco, said: “It is unfortunate that the government did not pay heed to the studies claiming that Pakistan spends Rs615 billion on treatment of tobacco-related diseases.”

He said though taxes have not been increased on cigarettes for the last five years, in 2017, tax collected from the tobacco industry was Rs82 billion which has increased to Rs135 billion during the current financial year.

“It is proof that the industry is involved in tax evasion as it never tried to increase the prices of cigarettes. With every passing year, cigarettes are becoming more affordable for the youth as prices are not increasing,” he added.

Mr Imran said appeals were made to the prime minister and authorities concerned several times, adding that the tobacco industry had close contacts with decision makers and the prime minister must intervene and introduce tax on tobacco products before the budget was passed.

The Coalition for Tobacco Control, a coalition of more than 50 civil society organisations, has also expressed its disappointment over not raising taxes on cigarette packs in the federal budget 2021-22 despite the recommendations of the health ministry.

“In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is essential to discourage products which are injurious to health. The pandemic is more dangerous for people who smoke cigarettes but the government has totally ignored hazardous effects of smoking,” a statement issued by organisation said.

Zeeshan Danish, project coordinator of the coalition, alleged that the tobacco industry succeeded in stonewalling all efforts for tobacco control in Pakistan.

The aggressive campaign by the tobacco industry to take attention away from the real and dangerous problem of smoking has succeeded, he said, adding: “Unfortunately, the campaign succeeded in giving the impression that smoking was an innocuous habit and is in danger because of illicit cigarette trade.

“It is interesting to note that the tobacco industry wants to save Rs77 billion for Pakistan in taxes by fighting illicit cigarette trade but does not want to spend it on providing smoking cessation services as currently these services in Pakistan are non-existent.”

Another emerging threat, he added, is the use of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.

Meanwhile, director Excise and Taxation Islamabad Bilal Azam, on Saturday, said that registration of sellers of cigarettes will be completed soon.

“It is our mission to protect youth from the hazards of tobacco and that is why it is being ensured that no one would sell cigarettes near educational institutions,” he said during an event held at Trail Five.

The event was organised on under the Tobacco Free Islamabad campaign.

Mr Azam was chief guest at the function while other guests included Pims Executive Director Dr Minhajus Siraj, Assistant Commissioner Abdullah Khan, Islamabad Traffic Police (ITP) Focal Person Ayesha and Tobacco Free Islamabad Project Manager Aftab Ahmed.

Mr Azam said that full registration of cigarette sellers in Islamabad will be completed soon.

The mission is to protect the youth of Islamabad from smoking, he added.

The district administration will ensure that there is no buying and selling of cigarettes near educational institutions.

More than 160,000 people in Pakistan die of various diseases due to smoking every year. A healthy society can be created if young people take part in walks and other healthy activities.

At the end of the event, participants took part in the clean-up drive at the trail. He emphasised that keeping Islamabad clean is our goal.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2021

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