Sugary beverages, tobacco industries lobbying to get taxes slashed, warn health experts

By M. Waqar Bhatti
March 31, 2023

ISLAMABAD: Following the imposition of a 10 percent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), beverage and tobacco industries are once again in action and leaving no stone unturned to get taxes on sugary drinks and tobacco products reduced by 50 percent in the coming budget, health experts warned on Thursday.


“Imposition of taxes on sugary drinks and tobacco products has not been accepted by both the industries and they are back in action to get the taxes on SSBs and cigarettes reduced by 50 percent in the next finance bill”, Sanaullah Ghumman, Secretary General of the Pakistan National Heart Association (PANAH) said while addressing an awareness session.

The health activist maintained that the sugary drinks mafia tried their best to avoid getting sugary drinks taxed and even used diplomatic influence to prevent the government from imposing federal excise duty on their products, adding that both were now lobbying to get the taxes reduced so that they could continue earning huge profits at the cost of the health of Pakistanis. “Increasing tax on sugary drinks can help generate significant revenue and reduce hospital expenditure. The common man is not affected when tax is increased on sugary drinks as these are not necessary items and their consumption only adds to the disease burden and increases hospital expenditure”, Ghuman said. He said Pakistan ranks third highest in the world with more than 33 million people with diabetes, adding that the annual cost of managing diabetes has increased to $2640 million in Pakistan.

“For the last four decades, our association is working to save the lives of people, especially the youth, from heart and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs)”, he informed and added sugary drinks are one of their major causes. He said every section of society, including media and health professionals, is raising voice to reduce their consumption.

Munawar Hussain, Consultant, Global Health Advocacy Incubator, said that excessive consumption of sugary drinks is a growing threat to health and the economy in the country. “Increasing tax on sugary drinks is a triple win for the government, as the policy intervention does not cost anything to the government, helps reduce disease burden and hospital expenditure, and increases revenue,” said Munawar. “Government should consider increasing tax on all type of sugary drinks including carbonated beverages, energy drinks, flavoured dairies, juices (including fruit juices), iced tea, squashes and syrups for better outcome of the policy. Another important consideration is that water and unsweetened milk should not be taxed,” he added. We further request the Government of Pakistan to increase the federal excise duty on sugary drinks to 50 percent so that the consumption of sugary drinks is reduced.

Speaking to the workshop, Dr Khawaja Masood from the Ministry of Health said that non-communicable diseases are on the rise in Pakistan and we fully support fiscal policies aimed to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks. “Research shows that sugary drinks are among the major causes of obesity leading to Type 2 Diabetes, heart diseases, cancers and many other chronic diseases,” he said. “The consumption of flavoured milk and yoghurt is equally harmful to health as other sugary drinks. People should choose healthier alternatives like unsweetened milk, lassi and water,” he added.

Aziz Alvi, representing the media, said that the beverage industry is using various tactics to oppose the tax on sugary drinks. The media shall continue disseminating facts and expose interference of the industry in the policy process.