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ISLAMABAD: The government is expected to impose a health levy on cigarettes in the upcoming federal budget (2021-22) to discourage smoking, raise revenue and reduce the number of non-communicable diseases, including cancer and diabetes.

Talking to media here on Wednesday, Dr. Faisal Sultan, special assistant to the prime minister on health, said that his ministry was working to incorporate the health levy bill on cigarettes into the Finance Bill 2021 to enforce the levy across the country.

He said the health levy on cigarettes should have been implemented in the previous fiscal year, but it couldn’t happen due to certain reasons.

The federal cabinet approved the health levy in June 2019, but it is yet to be implemented.

A delay in the implementation of the health levy was causing a loss of around Rs38 billion annually to the national exchequer in terms of low tax collection.

The special assistant has vowed not to accept pressure from any influential industry to further delay the imposition of the levy, adding that the levy would

help collect additional billions of rupees in taxes that would be sufficient to improve health infrastructure in the country.

Earlier, in a letter to the Ministry of Finance, Dr. Faisal Sultan emphasized the need to charge Rs10 per pack of 20 cigarettes as health tax on tobacco and Re1 per 250 milliliter on carbonated drinks as approved by the federal cabinet on June 18, 2019.

Sultan said the non-communicable diseases like the heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung diseases were collectively responsible for almost 68 percent of all deaths in Pakistan.

Pakistan is obligated to reduce one-third of the premature deaths from these diseases mainly caused by tobacco by 2030 as part of its targets set in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), he said.

He said the government could achieve the goal by decreasing tobacco consumption among the youth through imposition of the health tax.

Meanwhile, officials at the Ministry of National Health Services said that the Finance Ministry was yet to respond to the Health Levy Bill suggestion.

In Pakistan, tobacco use is a cause of death of around 160,100 people every year while almost 23.9 million adults currently use tobacco in the country, according to the Tobacco Control Cell at the Ministry of National Health Services.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021