Parliamentary Health Secretary Dr Shazia Sobia Aslam Soomro speaks at an event in Islamabad on Wednesday. — APP
Parliamentary Health Secretary Dr Shazia Sobia Aslam Soomro speaks at an event in Islamabad on Wednesday. — APP

ISLAMABAD: Health levy bill is ready to be presented in parliament and its immediate implementation can generate Rs60 billion revenue for government.

This revenue can help in reducing the damage caused by tobacco industry to health and economy.

This was the crux of a discussion organised by Society for Protection of Rights of the Child (Sparc) on Wednesday. The discussants requested the government to impose the levy to save Pakistani children and youth from the harms of tobacco use.

Parliamentary Secretary National Health Services Dr. Shazia Sobia Aslam Soomro shared alarming statistics that 1,200 children begin smoking daily and 170,000 people die due to tobacco induced diseases every year.

She mentioned that ministry of health was committed to supporting all pro-child moves such as healthy levy because they were important to ensure that the number of smokers in Pakistan, which is already at 31 million, does not further increase.

Economic consequences of tobacco consumption in Pakistan were shared by Dr. Ziauddin Islam - Country Lead - Vital Strategies; Former Technical Focal Person of Govt. of Pakistan for World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

He said that the economic cost of smoking in Pakistan was Rs 615.07 billion which was equal to 1.6pc of Pakistan’s GDP but the revenue generated from the tobacco industry was only 20pc of the total cost.

“In 2019, Federal Cabinet approved a bill to impose Health Levy (additional tax) to decrease consumption of tobacco and generate 60 billion rupees per year. However many policy makers have continuously blocked the bill and hence tobacco products have become more affordable due to increase in per capita income,” he said.

Sparc Programme Manager Khalil Ahmed Dogar mentioned that children and low-income people were primary target of tobacco industry.

He suggested that immediate introduction of health levy bill in Parliament was required so it could become an Act and be implemented across the country.

“In addition, the prices of tobacco products must be increased to match inflation and increase in per capita income. But most importantly, strict monitoring of tobacco industry is required to ensure compliance of laws,” he said.

Shariq Mahmood Khan, CEO Chromatic Trust, said that Pakistan was one of the lowest ranked countries in the world in terms of tobacco taxation and since tobacco products were causing financial loss, the industry should be the one to pay for the imbalance it has created.

“Imposing health levy and spending the increased revenue generated on public health schemes, is the most needed sustainable solution to decrease tobacco consumption and improve our public health infrastructure,” he said.

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2022

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