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Experts advocate for 26pc FED increase to combat unseen toll of smoking

By Our Correspondent
March 12, 2024
A representational image shows a person holding a cigarette between the fingers. — AFP/File
A representational image shows a person holding a cigarette between the fingers. — AFP/File

Islamabad: In the midst of the celebrations marking achievements and progress on this Women’s Day, a sombre reality remains concealed- the burdensome cost of smoking borne by the women.

On this Women’s Day, one of the tragedies that went unreported is the cost of smoking that women had to pay. Highlighting the plight, a study by PIDE states, “The share of morbidity and mortality costs for females is underestimated because of their lower rates of labour force participation and difficulties in putting monitory value on their informal contribution to household production,” notes a study by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE).

Part of the problem is cheap price of cigarettes and civil society and health experts have underlined the need for increase in FED on cigarettes. Dr Hassan Shehzad, from IIU, says that in rural areas, both poverty and smoking levels are higher than urban areas, which is surprising. He stated that the problem is that prices of cigarettes are the cheapest in Pakistan as multinational companies reportedly influence the governments to facilitate their business.

“This is a business of loss for the country,” he stated. Highlighting this phenomenon, The PIDE report mentions, “Overall, the mortality cost for males is Rs259 billion, which is 92 per cent of the total. The total costs attributable to all smoking-related diseases and deaths in Pakistan for 2019 are Rs615.07 billion.” There is a need for 26 per cent FED increase on cigarettes to bear the health burden and make for the revenue shortfall that smoking has created.

Civil society activists have been demanding a 26 per cent FED on cigarettes for the country to be able to bear the health burden of smoking. At present, Pakistan has two tiers of tax on cigarettes and international guidelines require a uniformed tax system for this sector. Multinational companies place their products on the second tier so that they had to pay less tax, hence the prices of cigarettes come down and they become accessible to the masses.

Their easy accessibility results into swelling of healthcare costs and provenances of death and diseases in the society. “Following a substantial increase in 2022-23, the FED share in retail prices reached 48% and 68% for low and high tiers, respectively. However, the levelling off of the FED share in 2023-24, due to the absence of rate adjustments, could adversely affect revenue and public health efforts,” says a report.