Smoking – A Gateway towards Drugs

By: Khalil Ahmed Dogar

World International Day against Drug abuse and illicit trafficking is eminent to eliminate drug misuse and addressing the structural causes that fuel the illegal drug trade. The theme of this year’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is to share facts on drugs to save lives, highlighting the importance of consolidating the indication base and raising awareness so that the community, governments, civil society, families and youth can make informed decisions towards a healthy life.

Smoking is labelled as the beginning of all the evils in society. It’s a gateway towards drugs, with 29 million adults using tobacco products including 1200 children who initiate smoking daily and more than 170,000 tobacco-related deaths every year, Pakistan is among the 15 countries with the highest tobacco burden. Since Pakistan is selling the least expensive cigarettes there is a high prevalence of smoking.

Smoking-attributable direct cost is 8.3 percent of the total health expenditures, which amounts to 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s GDP 615 billion annually.

Cigarettes and other tobacco products are one of the largest public health problems due to their effects on the human body and their association with a variety of chronic and other dangerous diseases. For example, cancer with lung cancer being the most common, besides ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and stroke.

Smoking in your late teens and early 20s creates changes in the brain and body that can make young people more apt to experiment with other addictive substances. The risk of smoking instigation can be higher due to family and social causes to participate more easily in social groups; due to boredom or stress during their stay in college; also, due to social beliefs that promote smoking as evident in the gatherings of faith healers in the rural as well as urban areas.

According to Human Development Report, Pakistan’s youth consist of 64% of the population which is an easy target for the Tobacco Industry. In Pakistan, cigarettes are available at some of the cheapest rates in the region which grants easy access to youth. Imposing a tobacco tax is a win-win situation for the government as it will generate income. Pakistani residents are already burdened with taxes on consumer goods, but there has been no substantial increase on the tobacco tax, it’s more practical to generate revenue for damage control caused by tobacco from the tobacco itself (by increasing taxes).

Smoking-attributable direct cost is 8.3 percent of the total health expenditures, which amounts to 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s GDP 615 billion annually. In comparison, the total tax contribution of the tobacco industry (120 billion in 2019) is only around 20 percent of the total cost of smoking. The current tax structure enables the tobacco industry to sell cheaper cigarettes. Considering the economic and health costs of tobacco consumption, an increase of four to five times the current tax rate is strongly recommended. However, as a start, it is imperative that the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) raises excise taxes to meet the WHO’s recommended threshold of 70 percent of the retail price of a cigarette pack. Why is the government not initiating measures to ensure the implementation of all relevant laws to enhance tax on cigarettes to boost its revenue and reduce health costs? Tobacco-product excise taxes are most significant for attaining the health objective of reduced tobacco consumption.

Pakistan Ranks 16th in tobacco industry interference in the overall country ranking according to Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index report Pakistan withdrawing tobacco taxation from three- back to two-tier is a huge improvement but to reduce its consumption and balance health deficit we must raise taxes on cigarettes by 30% to make them unaffordable for youth as per the guidelines of WHO. 

Tobacco taxation is a crucial element of a comprehensive tobacco control strategy. However, to fully realize the benefits, it is important to understand the impact of increased taxes among high-risk subpopulations. Worldwide, governments levy taxes on tobacco products to control their consumption. Our government should also impose a tobacco tax to get rid of this evil.

The writer is Manager Research and Communication, Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, SPARC, Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]