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LAHORE: Tobacco is a highly lethal and addictive substance endangering millions of lives every year. Consumed in any form, excessive use of tobacco results in substantial economic and social losses across the globe, experts said.

World Health Organization (WHO) asserts that smoking alone causes around 8 million causalities annually which include 1.2 million non-smokers as well. Although the situation of excessive tobacco consumption is not promising for all Asian countries, yet, Pakistan presents unique challenges in terms of its curtailment. As per the World Bank report of 2019, Pakistan is included amongst the countries with highest prevalence of tobacco consumption.

Despite of numerous efforts by the local and international institutes, the harrowing effects of increased tobacco consumption could not be curtailed as anticipated. In this context, the alleged influence of tobacco companies is one of the prime factors which undermine the effectiveness of any tobacco control campaign planned for the benefit of masses. Apparently, the tobacco lobby uses its connections to bend the public policies in its favor through statistical exaggerations and false case studies.

A classic example of this influence is over emphasis on the illicit trade as one of the factors exacerbating the health and economic implications for the state. Oxford Economics and some other institutes of international exposure claimed in their reports that the percentage of illicit tobacco trade as high as 41.9 percent in Pakistan. Upon close inspection, these reports often funded or inspired by tobacco companies were full of contradictory facts and questionable methodologies. According to the official survey conducted by the Pakistan National Heart Association, the volume of illicit trade is not more than 9 percent which suggests that the official production figures quoted by the tobacco industry are highly inflated. The World Bank Group has also reported in 2019 that the tobacco proponents have created a false impression of massive illegal trade in Pakistan for demanding tax evasions from the government.

Through their coordinated ploy, not only that they succeed in acquiring tax relaxations but also manage to evade taxes through illegitimate means. More often than not, the major tobacco firms are found involved in smuggling tobacco products due to the local weak legislative structure. The growing evidence suggests that companies like Phillip Morris facilitate the black market, causing a revenue loss of around Rs. 70 billion to state exchequer. Therefore, in order to put an end to this conniving tactics employed by tobacco companies, Government of Pakistan decided to introduce the tracking and tracing system.—PR

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021