Tobacco control advocates call for health levy on cigarettes

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Zubair Qureshi

Members of civil society, consumers’ rights groups and non-government organizations (NGOs) have called upon the government to impose health levy on cigarettes without further delay.
They were addressing a media session organized by the Human Development Foundation (HDF) at a local hotel here Wednesday. The session was also addressed and participated by PANAH, SPARC and media persons.
CEO HDF, Azhar Saleem stated that tobacco use had a significant impact on the economic costs of a country, including the health care costs for treating tobacco related diseases and lost productivity of workforce.
The annual economic cost of smoking in Pakistan is as high as Rs 143 billion. He shared that higher taxes on tobacco products create a win-win situation, in terms of increased revenues for government and improved public health as tobacco consumption reduces.
He also added that countries like Philippines have implemented health tax on tobacco products which has resulted in a sustainable source of funding for the national health care programs.
Executive Director SPARC, Sajjad Cheema said it was imperative to save our youth and children from tobacco. The most effective measure in this regard is the higher prices of tobacco products. He said that with higher taxes and the proposed health levy, the prices of cigarettes will increase which will limit access and ultimately reduce the overall consumption by all, particularly youth.
Malik Imran, Representative of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) has been rightly emphasizing that taxation is a proven effective measure to control the growing consumption of tobacco. He repeatedly mentions that it has almost been a year that Health Levy bill was approved by the Cabinet yet it was not included in the Financial Bill 2019-2020 due to the hidden interests and misleading influence of Tobacco Industry. Sadly, the government is still dragging its feet to implement it.
Waseem Saleem, Senior Economist at Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC) said that the large fiscal imbalances in Pakistan require greater tax revenues. He added that the level of under-reporting of cigarette production in Pakistan has significant negative implications for government tax revenue. Revenue loss due to undeclared production is estimated to be Rs 31 billion while by including GST revenue, it becomes Rs 37 billion (considering the average FED rate of Rs 1.93 per cigarette in 2016-17, calculated by dividing total revenue by the volume of sales). He stated that tobacco taxation will positively contribute to government revenues, ultimately promoting the government’s public health objectives.