ISLAMABAD: Former minister for national health services Dr Nadeem Jan has called for a 50pc increase in cigarette taxation to deter smoking among the population, especially youth.

During an anti-tobacco awareness session hosted by the Centre for Research and Dialogue, he contested the cigarette industry’s claim that higher taxes would lead to a surge in illicit trade, labelling these assertions as a misleading tactic to persuade the government to lower taxes on tobacco products.

Dr Jan pointed out the adverse impact of such misinformation on state revenues and public health.

Despite the industry pressures, he highlighted the efforts of the health ministry to reduce the smoking rates in Pakistan.

He also advocated foradoption of a single-tier taxation system to replace the current multi-tier system which was influenced by the cigarette industry under the pretext of combating the illicit trade.

The introduction of a third-tier in 2017 led to a significant drop in government revenue, prompting investigations by NAB and the Senate into the financial losses incurred.

The national exchequer suffered a staggering Rs567 billion loss during the last seven years due to various tactics used by the industry and inefficient tax collection, he added.

Reiterating Pakistan’s commitment to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), he called for a unified pricing system to simplify regulation and discourage the tobacco use.

Speaking on the occasion, Malik Imran, country head of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said tobacco consumption caused an estimated annual loss of Rs615 billion to the economy.

He criticised the tobacco industry’s influence on the government policy and its unfounded warnings against tax increases which contradict the industry’s record-high revenues and the government’s doubled revenue from the previous financial year.

Both the speakers underscored the necessity of stringent regulations and public awareness to counter the tobacco industry’s misleading claims and propaganda, including on the social media platforms.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2024

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