ISLAMABAD: While proposals for the next financial year’s budget are being finalised, health activists on Tuesday urged the government to increase tobacco taxes and use the funds to upgrade healthcare infrastructure.

They were attending an online event organised by Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc) to discuss how increasing tobacco taxes could help fund healthcare infrastructure of the government. They referred to a report prepared by Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) which revealed compelling facts about the health burden of tobacco on the country’s economy.

According to the study, in 2019, revenue collected from tobacco taxes was only Rs120 billion while the health burden caused by tobacco use amounted to Rs615 billion. Participants were of the view that no tobacco tax was increased by the government in the last three years, while the health levy bill for tobacco was still pending.

Study reveals health burden caused by tobacco use was Rs615 billion

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Country Head Malik Imran Ahmed said higher prices of cigarettes also acted as a deterrent for children and youth to stop smoking.

Two in five smokers initiated cigarette smoking before the age of 10 and the tobacco-product excise taxes are most important for attaining the health objective of reduced tobacco consumption, he said, adding that, “Unfortunately, some key members of the government repeatedly defused the move and protected the interests of the tobacco industry. The government must consider implementing a health levy as early as possible. This way, it will be complying with its international obligations by taking care of the health needs of its people. Also, as per the SDG target, Pakistan is obligated to condense one-third of premature fatality from these diseases primarily caused by tobacco.”

Sparc Programme Manager Khalil Ahmed said healthcare expenses were one of the biggest reasons why many Pakistanis fell below the poverty line every year.

“Most people defer healthcare treatment due to lack of financial means to pay for care. The pandemic has brought greater awareness among individuals globally about health-risk management. Pakistan’s allocation of the gross domestic product (GDP) on health is 1.2 percent, whereas the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation is 5pc. 30pc increase in tobacco taxes will help the government not only to generate extra revenue to reduce the health cost burden and increase the revenue, but also eventually meet the WHO target,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2022

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