ISLAMABAD: While the preparation of the national budget for the financial year 2020-21 is in its final stages, anti-tobacco advocates on Wednesday urged the government to increase the cigarette tax to improve health and the economy.
In the pre-budget press conference held at the National Press Club, they demanded at least Rs 20 increase in Federal Excise (FED) for each cigarette to increase revenue collection and prevent tobacco use among residents, especially young people.
There are two tax sheets for cigarettes. A number of Rs33 FED is imposed on cigarettes that cost less than Rs90 per package and Rs90 on cigarettes with prices of Rs90 and above.
The press was jointly organized by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc), the Human Development Foundation (HDF) and the Pakistan National Heart Association (Arrow).
Anti-tobacco advocates say more taxes on the tobacco industry will result in improved health and the economy
Sajjad Ahmed Cheema, executive director of Sparc, said the increase in the dollar exchange rate had an impact on the prices of basic goods but the prices of tobacco products remained the same.
He said civil society organizations wanted a better future for Pakistan and were very worried why big taxes were not imposed on the tobacco industry.
“High taxes on tobacco products will not only reduce tobacco consumption and accessibility but will also keep minors from tobacco.”
Mr Cheema said he would also reduce government health bills in addition to contributing to a clean and healthy environment.
“We urge the government to impose higher taxes on tobacco products to save our children.”
Azhar Saleem, HDF’s chief executive, said the country was facing a huge shortage of funds to fight the corona virus. Through changes in the taxation structure, the tobacco industry has avoided taxes at the expense of the lives of citizens, he argues.
The government needs to keep in mind the rising inflation rate while completing taxes on tobacco products for the fiscal year 2020-2021. He urged the government to increase the FED on tobacco products by Rs20 for each tax slab.
Sanaullah Ghuman, Panah’s secretary general, said the government needs to adopt a futuristic approach and channel additional income into situations where financial setbacks are faced like the current coronavirus pandemic.
“This additional income will reduce the financial crisis facing the country,” he said.
According to health experts and advocates, the lack of funds faced by Pakistan to combat the corona virus can be overcome by imposing more taxes on tobacco products.
A representative from Tobacco-Free Children, Malik Imran, told Dawn that anti-tobacco supporters had learned that efforts were underway to arrange a tobacco industry representative meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“Any such meeting will violate the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). As section 5.3 of the FCTC states that the tobacco industry cannot be involved in policy and budget decisions is also a policy decision so that the meeting can influence proposals budget, “he said.
Pakistan signed the FCTC in May 2004 and ratified it in the same year. The FCTC is the first international agreement that provides a framework (and officer obligations) for tobacco regulations.
According to WHO estimates, 44 million children ages 13 to 15 smoke and more adolescents join the number.
Data from 39 countries shows that around nine percent of children aged 13 to 15 now use e-cigarettes, because tobacco companies deliberately use ‘deadly’ tactics to target children and make them addicted to smoking.
Pakistan is among the top 15 countries with widespread tobacco consumption and higher levels of tobacco-related health problems.
Published in Dawn, 4 June 2020
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