BY: ASIM NAWAZ/EDITOR
ISLAMABAD: The economic loss significantly outpaced the tobacco industry’s revenue and the economic burden can be lessened by the implementation of the proposed health levy on cigarettes. This was discussed in a seminar organized by SPARC – a child rights organization running an anti-tobacco campaign.
It is revealed that Tobacco Health Levy Bill is pending at the ministry of health and is ready to be presented in parliament and its immediate implementation can generate 60 Billion Rupee revenue for the government. Experts are of the view that this revenue can help in reducing the damage caused by the tobacco industry to health and the economy.
Dr. Shazia Sobia Aslam Soomro, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of National Health Services Regulations and Coordination, said that the use of tobacco is ruining the future of our youth and children. Tobacco is the gateway to other drugs and it can be takled through collective efforts of government and civil society, she added. She mentioned that the Ministry of Health is committed to supporting all pro-child moves such as health levy. She also emphasized youngsters to stop using sugary items to avoid health issues at young ages.
Economic consequences of tobacco consumption in Pakistan were shared by Dr. Ziauddin Islam – Country Lead – Vital Strategies; Former Technical Head/Director, Tobacco Control Cell, Ministry of NHSR&C; Former Technical focal Person of Govt. of Pakistan for WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). He mentioned that the economic cost of smoking in Pakistan is PKR 615.07 billion which is equal to 1.6% of Pakistan’s GDP but the revenue generated from the tobacco industry is only 20% of the total cost. In 2019, Federal Cabinet approved a bill to impose Health Levy (Additional tax) on tobacco Products to decrease consumption and generate 60 Billion Pakistani Rupees per Year. However influenced by the tobacco industry, many policy makers have continuously block the bill and hence tobacco products have become more affordable due to increase in per capital income.
Khalil Ahmed Dogar, Program Manager, SPARC, mentioned that children and low-income people are primary target of tobacco industry. He suggested that immediate introduction of Health Levy Bill in Parliament is required so it can become an Act and can 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.
Shariq Mahmood Khan, CEO, of Chromatic Trust, stated that Pakistan is one of the lowest-ranked countries in the world in terms of tobacco taxation and since tobacco products are causing us 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.