ISLAMABAD: The government can generate Rs26 billion by increasing the federal excise duty on tobacco products by 30 percent and this amount can be used for human development.

This suggestion was put forward by activists during a discussion organised by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc) on saving youth from tobacco hazards through sustainable tobacco control policies in Pakistan at a local hotel.

Sparc Programme Manager Khalil Ahmed Dogar said due to affordability and easy availability, the number of smokers had reached 29 million besides the 170, 000 people who died yearly as a result of diseases related to smoking.

He further added that the use of tobacco caused an economic burden of Rs615 billion, which was 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s gross domestic product (GDP). This situation calls for immediate implementation of a recommendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) which suggests a 30pc increase in tax on tobacco products. The increase in tobacco tax would generate revenue of approximately Rs26 billion, he added.

Dr Ziauddin Islam, who is country lead of Tobacco Control Pakistan for Vital Strategies said that Pakistan’s youth made up 64pc of the population, which was an easy target for the tobacco industry. The industry considered adolescents as replacement smokers, he said, adding in Pakistan, cigarettes were available at some of the cheapest rates in the region, which granted easy access to youth.

Chromatic Trust Chief Executive Officer Shariq Mahmood Khan said taxes were the most cost-effective tobacco control measure, adding that the new government should increase taxes on tobacco products to reduce consumption and generate additional income.

Pakistan National Heart Association (Panah) General Secretary Ch Sanaullah Ghuman said that there was a high prevalence of smoking among youth. The new government should strictly comply with the laws that banned the advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of all tobacco products.

Participants learnt that for decades, tobacco companies had used strategies like youth-oriented marketing to lure young people into a lifetime of addiction. “We must not allow our youth to face this fate,” Mr Ghuman said.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2022

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