Up in smoke

Published May 31, 2024

ON World No Tobacco Day, it is imperative that Pakistan confront the creeping threat of tobacco use. This year’s theme, “protecting children from tobacco industry interference”, underscores the need to shield our youth from the often insidious tactics employed by the tobacco industry. With 37m 13- to 15-year-olds using tobacco globally, the gravity of the situation cannot be overstated. In Pakistan, tobacco use leads to over 160,000 deaths annually. The surging popularity of e-cigarettes among the youth, with companies exploiting child-friendly flavours and digital platforms to hook the next generation, further exacerbates this crisis. Despite all this, tobacco companies argue against taxation, claiming it would spur illicit trade. However, there is evidence taxes reduce tobacco consumption while increasing government revenue. With the budget around the corner, health experts in Pakistan have proposed a 26.6pc increase in FED on tobacco products to deter smoking, particularly among youth and low-income groups. This approach, they say, offers a “triple win”: reducing the number of smokers by 517,000, increasing tax revenue by 12.1pc, and recovering 19.8pc of healthcare costs associated with tobacco use. They have also made a case for the introduction of a single-tier taxation system, replacing the current multi-tier one, to streamline collection and combat industry manipulation.

It is equally essential to crack down on cigarette smuggling, which leads to the circulation of non-compliant cigarette packs without health warnings. The FBR has taken steps by seizing illegal cigarettes worth Rs96m, but more comprehensive steps are needed. These include stringent enforcement of anti-tobacco laws and implementation of the track and trace system to ensure all cigarette packs bear legitimate tax stamps. Enhanced public awareness initiatives about the dangers of tobacco use are also crucial. We must act decisively to protect future generations from the deadly grip of tobacco or risk having their health go up in smoke.

Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2024

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