ISLAMABAD: While increase in tax on formula milk, edible items and a number of household goods has been proposed, health experts criticised the government for ignoring cigarettes in mini-budget which could generate Rs10 to Rs20 billion additional revenue annually.

They have urged Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has been an anti-tobacco advocate, to intervene and play his role in increasing the tax on tobacco related products so that the revenue of the government could increase and cost on treatment of tobacco related disease could decrease.

Former Technical Head of Ministry of National Health Services Tobacco Control Cell Dr Ziaudin Islam, while talking to Dawn, said Covid-19 has increased prices from match box to cars and medicines, the prices of cigarettes could not be increased during last three years.

“On the one hand we have been spending Rs615 billion on treatment of tobacco related diseases and around 450 deaths are reported daily. On the other hand tax, which is considered only option to discourage smoking, could not be increased. I urge the government to reconsider its policies,” he said.

Head of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids Malik Imran said that tobacco control activists were disappointed to see an increase in taxes on milk for children in mini-budget but no tax increase on cigarettes which could have generated Rs10 to Rs20 billion.

“Evidence based research reveals that tobacco is the largest silent killer in Pakistan as 438 people die every day due to tobacco use. The children of Pakistan are biggest victims because the tobacco industry targets them as replacement smokers. Around 1,200 Pakistani children between ages of 6-15 years start smoking every day,” he said.

“The cigarette taxation in Pakistan is lowest in South Asia, and this makes them easily affordable for children. The health and economic costs of tobacco use (615 billion) are more than five times the tax receipts from it, meaning that the tax contribution of the tobacco industry is a small fraction of what tobacco consumption costs the government and society,” Mr Imran said.

According to health experts, smoking causes 75pc cent lung diseases. More than 6.9 million people have been affected from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in Pakistan and it is expected that soon it will be the third leading cause of death from chronic diseases worldwide.

Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2022

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