ISLAMABAD: The director general (DG) of Parliamentary Committees has written a letter to the Prime Minister’s (PM) Office seeking intervention against regularisation of heated-tobacco products (HTPs).

DG Parliamentary Committees Mehboob Ali Gurmani has stated that members of the National Assembly (NA) Standing Committee on National Health Services in a meeting unanimously observed with great concern that while HTPs were being banned in so many countries due to their detrimental effects on human health, these harmful products were being legalised in Pakistan through a recently issued SRO.

“The Standing Committee requests the Honourable Prime Minister of Pakistan to kindly intervene in this serious matter and direct the authorities to immediately hold implementation of the said SRO. The committee also requests the prime minister to kindly give early hearing to the standing committee and other relevant health professionals to discuss this matter of great national importance,” the letter stated.

Advocate High Court Malik Imran, while talking to Dawn, said it was unfortunate that while HTPs were being banned across the globe, in Pakistan, efforts were being made to regularise them.

These products are being banned throughout the world due to detrimental effects, letter states

Social scientists have said the rise in cigarette taxes in Pakistan was a significant step in the direction of lowering tobacco use and advancing public health. They said action demonstrated the government’s dedication towards shielding its population from the perils of smoking.

“To further lower smoking rates in Pakistan, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other public health advocates must continue to push for stricter tobacco control laws,” said Prof Dr Mohammad Zaman of the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

“It is vital to invest in public education and effective enforcement of tobacco control laws to achieve a tobacco-free Pakistan,” he said, thanking the government for increasing federal excise duty (FED) after a statutory regulatory order (SRO) was released on Feb 14.

The SRO stated that taxes on locally-produced cigarettes had been revised and the FED had doubled on cigarettes (Rs16,500 per 1,000 cigarettes if the initial price on the packaging exceeds 9,000 per 1,000 cigarettes).

Agreeing with him, Dr Hassan Shehzad of International Islamic University Islamabad, said smoking was a major issue in Pakistan, where millions of people were dependent on it.

“Smoking is a major contributor to a number of illnesses, such as lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and other respiratory difficulties. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that smoking causes around 166,000 deaths per year in Pakistan. This figure is concerningly high, and it necessitates quick action to stop the nation’s tobacco pandemic,” he said.

Dr Shehzad said a tried-and-true way to decrease tobacco use was to raise the charge on cigarettes, adding that due to this approach, cigarettes were more expensive, which may deter individuals from smoking — especially young people. Also, the extra tax money can be utilised to assist with smoking cessation programmes and finance anti-smoking ads.

It is worth mentioning here that one of the biggest cigarette tax increases in Pakistani history is the government’s effort to raise taxes by nearly 150pc.

This action will increase cigarette costs, making smoking less accessible to young people who are frequently drawn to it by its low cost.

“While we have got a success in increasing the price of cigarettes and make it inaccessible for youth, tobacco industry has been trying to capture the youth through HTPs,” he said.

Pakistan National Heart Association General SecretarySanaullah Ghumman said the tobacco industry was trying to create a new market to attract youth. “Last week we held a walk against the regularisation of HTPs in which a large number of children also participated,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2023

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