Health Activists Advocate for 26% Increase in Tobacco Tax

Wed May 15 2024
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ISLAMABAD: Health activist here on Wednesday highlighted the tragic and preventable loss of innocent lives due to smoking-related illnesses and underscored the importance of implementing effective tobacco control measures, including increased taxation on cigarettes, to make them less affordable and discourage consumption.

The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) held a briefing session with journalists, during which they shared their proposal to increase taxation on tobacco products. SPARC, along with other organizations, wrote a letter to the Finance Ministry of Pakistan, demanding a 26% increase in tobacco taxation in the upcoming federal budget.

Dr. Khalil Ahmad, program manager at SPARC, emphasized the pressing concerns regarding the affordability of cigarettes and the devastating toll of smoking on public health. He stated that when cigarettes are inexpensive, it can encourage more people, especially the youth and those with limited financial means, to start or continue smoking despite the known health risks.

He also stressed the need for comprehensive tobacco control strategies, including public education campaigns, smoke-free policies, and support for smoking cessation programs.

Pakistan faces a significant challenge with widespread tobacco consumption, with over 31.9 million adults aged 15 years and above identified as current tobacco users, constituting nearly 19.7% of the adult population. Smoking-related illnesses claim over 160,000 lives annually, representing a substantial 1.6% of the nation’s GDP each year. However, in the fiscal year 2022-23, cigarette taxes covered only 16% of these expenses, marking a decline from 19.5% in 2019.

Malik Imran Ahmad, Country Head of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), echoed these sentiments, stating that increasing tobacco taxes, as recommended by global health organizations like the World Health Organization and the World Bank, can be an effective measure to reduce consumption and generate revenue for healthcare.

He emphasized that a 26.6% FED increase, as proposed for the fiscal year 2024-25, could help recoup a substantial portion of healthcare costs and discourage hundreds of thousands of individuals from smoking. Additionally, the projected revenue increase could be valuable for funding various public health initiatives and strengthening the national economy.

Several organizations, including the Human Development Foundation, Aurat Foundation, and Chromatic Trust, alongside SPARC, have raised concerns about the easy affordability of cigarettes and its associated health and economic burdens.

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