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Pakistan

Unchecked tobacco trade hazardous for health, state revenue

“The economic impact is grave as the smoking luxury creates a smoke screen before the government,” says Malik Imran
Updated 19 May 2020
  • “The economic impact is grave as the smoking luxury creates a smoke screen before the government,” says Malik Imran.

Health experts, economists and civil society activists are calling the findings of the Studying Tobacco Users of Pakistan (STOP) survey an eye-opener and as grave as coronavirus for both the state and the public. The survey conducted in 10 cities of Pakistan found the impacts of smuggled cigarettes hazardous both for the state revenue and the public health. 

“The multinational tobacco trade in Pakistan swings like a double-edged sword, as it claims 160,000 lives in the country and steals Rs42 billion to Rs192 billion annually in one way or another,” says Malik Imran, head of the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC).

“The economic impact is grave as the smoking luxury creates a smoke screen before the government.”

Several studies conducted on the multinational cigarette industry’s trade and influence have uncovered the apathy of governments around the world, including Pakistan, acting with lackluster actions against the trade. “It is an obvious thing that government officials work hands in glove with multinational companies in inflicting giving damage to the public health and national exchequer.

Also, a study by the Social Policy and Development Centre has found that the industry under reports its total production and evades taxes as a result. Earlier, a State Bank of Pakistan’s report that the production of cigarettes has gone up by 92 percent fell on deaf year, which speaks volume of state and industry’s concerns towards the public health.

“This simply reveals that the people, especially younger lot, are becoming vulnerable to the smoke death trap,” says Dr Alia, a researcher on the impacts of cigarettes and illegal trade of tobacco worldwide.

Why people forget that tobacco is the most fatal but the single largest preventable cause of disease and death in the world, she said in an online debate discussing the STOP survey last week.

“In Pakistan, cigarette causes 120,000 deaths every year. This simply means that already underfunded health sector of Pakistan gets more stressed because of the unchecked tobacco trade and more and more people fall under the trap of the death and diseases. If the trend is not checked now, health expense of Pakistan will definitely increase, and ultimately Pakistan will face a huge loss as not only will the productivity of our youth be affected, but spending on the treatment of diseases will also increase,” she added.

The debate noted though lockdown has harmed world economies and ongoing educational activities to a great extent, it might have stemmed the tide of smoking habits among schoolchildren because of greater parental control. The panelists of the dialogue on smoking among schoolchildren said in normal days 1,200 to 1,500 schoolchildren were falling in the habit of smoking every day in Pakistan.

The dialogue was arranged by the Human Development Foundation, participated by educationists and civil society activists. Azhar Saleem from the HDF stated that the only way to keep schoolchildren from smoking was putting heavy taxes on the tobacco industry. He lamented the industry was lobbying among policymakers to get tax concessions and avoid higher taxes in the upcoming budget. He said for this reason, the industry was saying that state revenues were falling due to illegal trade of cigarettes, which was not true.

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