ISLAMABAD: Poor households in Pakistan spend a larger proportion of their budget on tobacco than rich households, which results in less spending on basic needs. Due to unchanged and low tobacco taxes, Pakistan was ranked among the worst-performing countries in the Tobacconomics Cigarette Tax Scorecard that evaluated the strength of tax systems.

This was pointed out by health activist, Advocate Malik Imran, as he spoke at an event organised by Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc).

While appreciating Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to provide relief to people by lowering prices of petroleum products and electricity, other activists have repeatedly asked the government to increase revenue for itself.

“As many as 31 million people, over the age of 15, and about 19.7pc of the adults, currently use tobacco which is the leading cause of death due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and cardiovascular diseases,” Advocate Imran said.

He said according to the government’s data, every year tobacco killed 163,360 people.

“According to estimates, more than 260,000 people will start smoking in Pakistan if tobacco taxes are not raised in 2022-23,” he added.

Activists showed their concern about the high prevalence of smoking among youth and urged the government to increase taxes by 30pc as per the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Former technical head of Ministry of Health’s Tobacco Control Cell Dr Ziauddin Islam said the youth was the main target of the tobacco industry and it considered adolescents as replacement smokers.

“Unfortunately, cigarettes in our country are available at some of the cheapest rates in the region, which makes them affordable for youth. As children are price sensitive, increasing tobacco taxes by 30pc will help prevent youth from starting to smoke,” he said.

Sparc Programme Manager Khalil Ahmed, while speaking about affordability, said daily 1,200 Pakistani children between the ages of six to 15 years start smoking.

“It is very disturbing that 15.3pc of teens start smoking before the age of 15. The health cost due to tobacco-related diseases is Rs615 billion which is 1.6pc of Pakistan’s GDP. Taxation on tobacco should be increased to balance the health deficit and to reduce its consumption,” he said.

Chief executive officer (CEO) of Chromatic Trust Shariq Mahmood Khan said smoking was one of the leading causes of preventable deaths globally.

“Among various policy interventions to reduce cigarette consumption, tobacco taxation is the most effective,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2022

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