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ISLAMABAD: Health and tobacco control activists Tuesday urged the government to take notice of the delay in implementation of the Health Levy Bill on cigarettes and beverages which was approved by the federal cabinet in 2019.

Addressing a joint press conference held at the National Press Club, Islamabad, on Tuesday, the Human Development Foundation (HDF), the Society for the Protection of the Rights of Child (SPARC), and the Pakistan National Heart Association (PANAH) reminded the government about the Health Levy Bill, passed by the cabinet in 2019 which is not been implemented as yet.

Syed Anis Bilal, Project Lead, HDF stated that the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) is responsible for delay in the implementation of health levy bill. Currently, the economic situation in Pakistan is not stable and the government is in need of revenues which can be utilised for financing government scheme such as Universal Health Coverage.

Non-compliance in implementation of health levy bill has already cost the government a total of Rs55 billion in revenues last year. Revenue generated from the health levy bill can be utilised for pandemic control and guarantee better health for our people.

Sanaullah Ghumman, general secretary, PANAH shared that in their pursuit of the current status of Health Levy Bill, they found that the bill has been going back and forth between the FBR, the Health Ministry, and the Finance Ministry.

He mentioned that the FBR shared in writing that it does not have any issues with the implementation of the health levy bill. The Federal Ministry for Finance has given a written assurance to the Federal Ombudsman for taking necessary steps for the implementation of the Health Levy Bill.

Hearing was held in Federal Ombudsman on the petition filed by PANAH in the presence of Senior Health Adviser of the Federal Ombudsman regarding health levy bill. A member of the Finance Ministry informed the Federal Ombudsman in writing that public health is one of the main priorities of the government; therefore, it was assured that necessary steps will be taken as soon as possible to implement the health levy bill.

Khalil Ahmed, programme manager, SPARC said Pakistan's economy was unfortunately unstable, the idea of a health levy was to increase the prices of sugary drinks and tobacco products, so that they are out of reach of children, and it would generate revenues as well. He further added the Covid-19 pandemic made everyone realise that our existing resources are insufficient for any health emergency.

Talking on this issue, Malik Imran, country representative, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said that the health levy was only a measure to mitigate the health burden caused by non-essential products such as sugary drinks and tobacco products.

He further stated the FBR has failed to implement the Health Levy bill which has cost the national exchequer a hefty amount. This new stream of revenues will help the government for sustaining its health program initiatives.

Tobacco control activists anticipate that the government will take instant notice of the delay in implementation of the health levy without being ill-advised by the FBR and take necessary steps to safeguard the health of millions in Pakistan.

Along with it, an investigation to determine why the decision of the federal cabinet to impose a health levy on tobacco could not be implemented was also made.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021