ISLAMABAD: The authorities concerned should take steps to generate revenue by imposing a health levy on tobacco products to compensate for losses faced by the health sector due to Covid-19 pandemic and natural disasters, according to an anti-tobacco organisation.

In a statement released by the Society for Protection of Rights of the Child (Sparc) on Wednesday, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids country head Malik Imran said: “Since tobacco products are causing us financial loss, the industry should be the one to pay for the imbalance it has created.”

Malik Imran claimed that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has repeatedly asked Pakistan to increase the price of cigarettes to at least Rs30 per packet to reduce the consumption of cigarettes and reduce health costs. The government must capitalise on this sustainable solution to save precious lives,” he added.

He said in June 2019, the federal cabinet decided to implement a health levy on tobacco products.

“This decision was made to put up a barrier against the tobacco industry which has caused severe damage to public health and the economy in Pakistan. However, some key policymakers kept blocking this move because of their strong working relationship with the tobacco industry,” Mr Imran alleged.

Sparc Programme Manager Khalil Ahmed Dogar said that the use of tobacco causes annual economic burden of Rs615 billion, which is 1.6pc of Pakistan’s GDP.

“On the other hand, the revenue generated from the tobacco industry is Rs120 billion. This imbalance can only be covered by imposing additional health tax on these products; otherwise, our struggling health infrastructure won’t be able to bear the burden,” he said.

He mentioned that children and low-income people were primary targets of the tobacco industry. Despite the claims of the industry, its products were the leading cause of deaths due to cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and cardiovascular disease, he added.

Meanwhile, during an event organised by Pakistan National Heart Association (PANAH), speakers sought an increase in tax on sugary drinks instead of fuel.

Member National Assembly Dr Samina Matloob said that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) were increasing at an alarming rate in Pakistan. “We need to focus on causes of these diseases and sugary drinks are major cause of obesity, diabetes and other NCDs,” she said.

Panah General Secretary Sanaullah Ghumman said that beverage and tobacco industries were misguiding policymakers at every step and creating barriers to the policy process.

Ministry of National Health Services Director Nutrition Masood Ahmed agreed that there was a need to decrease the consumption of sugary drinks for a healthy Pakistan.

In another development, Tetra Pak Pakistan donated a sum of Rs22 million to support the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) in response to their emergency appeal to maximise flood relief efforts across the country to tackle the alarming situation.

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2022

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