Experts highlight economic, and health toll of the tobacco industry

View of the cigarettes and tobacco stack. The tobacco plant is part of the genus nicotiana and of the solanaceae (nightshade) family.

LAHORE – Prices of cigarettes are cheaper in Pakistan than in other countries of the region, states Capital Calling, a network of academic researchers and professionals.

Citing different reports, it states that the cigarette which is sold for 1.21 USD in Pakistan is priced at 3.03 USD in India, 2.62 USD in Bangladesh and 5.91 USD in Sri Lanka.

It states that Pakistan registers the higher number of smoking-caused deaths in the region, adding that tier 2 cigarettes are being sold for as low as 0.77 USD per pack here, which makes the population vulnerable to smoking.

It hails the fact that the government increased Federal Excise Duty (FED) in February through a mini-budget to raise taxes on tobacco and discourage its consumption among the youth. Anti-tobacco activists said the policy had started bearing fruit, but multinational companies had already started lobbying the government to withdraw the taxes under the pretext of illicit cigarettes.

The multinational tobacco companies have exaggerated the number of illicit cigarettes in Pakistan to 40 percent, but numerous research studies proved them wrong as the share of illicit tobacco is just 18 percent. On the presence of illicit cigarettes in the local market, the activists claimed the multinational companies were misleading the government on it just to make cigarettes even more affordable.

Anti-tobacco activist and Chromatic Trust CEO Shariq Khan said that over 1200 children in Pakistan were starting smoking daily and the number of smokers was increasing which should be discouraged through taxes.

He lauded the government for raising the FED on cigarettes, warning that the authorities should not retract the taxes on the pressure of the multinational companies. He said the cigarette prices have been revised up across the globe every year, but in Pakistan, the tax has been jacked up after four years.

The tobacco industry was causing a loss of over Rs615 billion to the national exchequer in terms of diseases like cancer to people, besides causing 337,500 deaths every year as per IHME, Global Burden of Disease 2019. The anti-tobacco activists have urged the government to take measures to curb the supply of smuggled cigarettes in the local market.

The government is expected to collect at least Rs180 billion in taxes from the tobacco companies after an increase in the taxes, an Rs30 billion jump from the previous year, whilst some estimates put the enhanced tax collection of Rs. 60 billion additional.

He urged the policymakers to raise their voice against smoking and push the government to further levy taxes on tobacco products to discourage its consumption and increase its revenue to boost the fragile economy as per the World Health Organisation (WHO(’s guidelines.