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ISLAMABAD: Anti-tobacco activists and experts on Tuesday urged the government to introduce a single-tier taxation system on tobacco products in the upcoming budget (2021-22) to increase revenue and discourage smoking.

They were of the view that different taxation tiers on tobacco products or Federal Excise Duty (FED) slabs on cigarettes were only benefitting multinational tobacco companies, which is contributing to increase in number of smokers in the country.

A Country Representative of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Malik Imran, said that Pakistan has not increased tax on tobacco products for the last four years, while prices of all other commodities have increased manifold due to inflation.

He said the government should enforce a single-tier taxation system through the budget to save youth and kids from becoming smokers.

He questioned the multinational tobacco companies resistance to the single-tier taxation system, saying, the consumers would pay the higher taxes and the companies should back it.

A recent research study by The University of Edinburgh has also urged Pakistani government to reform tobacco taxation policy, since taxes can raise revenue, are a proven strategy to avoid tobacco-related mortality and morbidity, particularly, in the context of Covid-19.

The study said that heavy taxes also help deter youth to initiate smoking and smokers to quit or decrease smoking due to increase in cigarette prices.

Exploring the link between tobacco use and Covid-19, the study urged the government to integrate tobacco control, while improving and formulating strategies to combat Covid-19 in the future.

Data on tobacco use should be integrated into Covid-19 data collection from cases or patients admitted to hospital, it said.

There should be official dissemination of information relating to the hazards of tobacco use and particularly with regards to its relationship with Covid-19, through mass media and regular communication by the relevant government agencies.

The study said that the tobacco use results in premature mortality and morbidity globally to an extent that far exceeds that of Covid-19.

Global deaths from tobacco account for seven million people per year.

Pakistan has high levels of tobacco use compared to many other countries, and while recent progress has been made, much more needs to be done to reduce both smoking and smokeless tobacco use further.

The study said the government must not neglect their responsibility to prevent premature deaths from tobacco and the morbidity associated with tobacco use. This is particularly important at the current time when tobacco use can, from existing evidence, affect Covid-19 disease severity.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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