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ISLAMABAD: The National Alliance for Tobacco Control has urged upon the Finance Minister, Shaukat Tarin, to increase tax on tobacco products in the upcoming budget to discourage smoking and bring down the health cost in the country.

In this connection, the National Alliance for Tobacco Control has written a letter to the Ministry for Finance, here on Wednesday.

According to the communication to the Finance Minister, the alliance’s Chairman, Professor Javaid Khan requested the Finance Ministry to increase taxes on cigarettes in the budget to reduce the burden of tobacco related diseases in the country.

He said the federal cabinet approved a health levy in 2019 with Rs10/cigarette tax to discourage smoking in youth and boost the country’s revenue, but for one reason or the other this additional tax was never implemented.

He said in the letter to the finance minister that prices of cigarettes remain the lowest in Pakistan as compared to the other countries and this was encouraging the youth to get hooked on to this powerful addictive substance.

Despite evidence that higher tobacco taxes discourage smoking especially among the youth, Pakistan’s tax policy is among the weakest action areas in the fight against tobacco, the letter reads.

Tobacco use is the one risk factor common to the four main groups of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) — cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, and diabetes.

It is also a risk factor for infectious diseases, tuberculosis and lower respiratory infections, health burdens that afflict much of humanity.

A recent research study of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) revealed that total costs attributable to smoking related diseases and deaths in Pakistan for the year 2019 were Rs615 billion ($3.85 billion).

This amount was five times higher than the overall tax revenue the government generated from the tobacco industry (Rs120 billion in 2019).

The tobacco is killing over 166,000 people every year in the country.

The alliance has urged the Finance Ministry to review the tobacco taxation policy ahead of the budget and make the smoking costly with heavy taxes to bring down the number of smokers and boost the country’s revenue.

Adopting a uniform specific excise tax of 31.2 rupees per pack will lead over half a million current Pakistani cigarette smokers to quit smoking and prevent almost 725,000 Pakistani youth from taking up cigarette smoking, said a new research study.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021