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ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) has taken inadequate measures for the implementation of the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to curb tobacco consumption in the country.

Sources told Business Recorder here on Saturday that the snail's pace of implementation on FCTC had paved the way for the tobacco companies and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to merely focus on their own proposals for the coming federal budget.

"Still the ministry has not stressed the implementation of sin tax and increase of pictorial warning on tobacco packs [by] up to 70 percent," the sources said. The plan of earning from the increased taxes on tobacco products and spending on health infrastructure is still on paper.

"The FBR didn't pay attention to the Ministry of NHS proposals because the ministry itself didn't pursue the case it built," said the official.

Instead of working for the implementation of the levy on tobacco products, the ministry has still not fulfilled commitments made with the WHO FCTC.

Previous year, the ministry has proposed implementing the health tax on tobacco products, and in 2018, it had asked the FBR to increase the tax on tobacco products to spend the revenue on health sector.

However, both proposals were minutely considered by the FBR and the Finance Department.

"Meanwhile, this year, the ministry didn't even stress seriously for the increase of tobacco tax and raised issue with the finance department," officials said.

Meanwhile, Special Assistant to the Prime Minster (SAPM) on NHS Dr Zafar Mirza in his statement said that the global tobacco epidemic kills nearly eight million people globally.

More than seven million of these deaths are from direct tobacco use and around 1.2 million are due to non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. More than 80 percent of these preventable deaths will be among people living in low-and middle-income countries.

In Pakistan, tobacco use remains a major public health challenge claiming 160,000 lives annually.

Furthermore, 1,200 Pakistani children between the ages of six to 15 start smoking daily, which is alarming.

Under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), an international treaty to which Pakistan is a signatory, the Federal Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (MNHSRC) has an obligation to develop strategies to protect the health of Pakistanis from tobacco exposure.

Federal Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination in coordination with the provinces has developed a draft national policy to sustain the tobacco control efforts in Pakistan.

Our ministry has tabled an ambitious tobacco taxation reforms proposal for consideration in the upcoming budget which seeks Rs24 billion in additional tax revenue, which will be used for saving the lives of public.

He said, "I am pleased to share that we successfully implemented a "Smoke-Free Islamabad Model" through 85 percent compliance of tobacco control laws. All public parks, high-rise buildings, food outlets and public transport smoke free in Islamabad. This model has also hence far been replicated in five model districts. Our Smoke Free Model has been acknowledged by the World Health Organization."

He said, "We will continue to strive to raise taxes, enhance size of graphic health warnings and promote a smoke-free society by providing a counter-marketing campaign, awareness against nicotine use and empower young people to engage in the fight against tobacco."

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020