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Govt can generate funds for COVID-19 by regulating tobacco products

By Our Correspondent
April 23, 2020

Islamabad : Human Development Foundation (HDF) Azhar Saleem CEO on Wednesday stated in an online media session that the government has announced the provision of relief to vulnerable segments of society, especially, labour and daily-wagers as a top priority of the government.

Taxing the non-essential products like tobacco should be the way forward. He said last year the cabinet had approved a bill that would have raised Rs10 on per cigarette packs and Rs1 per 250ml of sugary drinks.

This would have earned the country about Rs50 billion in revenue, which could be used for the healthcare system which is already stressed due to the pandemic. Tobacco use in itself is an epidemic recognized by the World Health Organization and claims over 160,000 lives in Pakistan alone. He further stressed that this time is very relevant to minimize the consumption of tobacco products as tobacco consumers are 14 times at a greater risk of becoming a victim of COVID 19. Zahid Shafiq, campaign Lead, HDF highlighted that Pakistan is one of the biggest consumers of smokeless tobacco products with approximately 9.6 million users currently.

In a study, it was found that most of the cases of oral cancer are a direct result of smokeless tobacco consumption and 58% of head and neck cancer cases worldwide have been reported to occur in South and Southeast Asia. However, this industry is not regulated under the tobacco control laws of Pakistan. If the government regulates this industry and taxed smokeless tobacco products, as is done by other neighboring countries, further substantial revenues can be generated from this source. The current global trend is shifting towards electronic cigarettes and vaping products, mostly among youth. These products are also not regulated in Pakistan.

This is another stream of revenues from where the government can generate sufficient funds by taxing these tobacco products. He urged the government to take necessary step in tobacco control efforts and implement the tax surcharge on all forms of tobacco products. "This is a win-win situation for both the economy and health of the country. To save our population during this pandemic, it is necessary that the government regulates all tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes to generate funds for tackling the growing disease and health burden in these testing times," he added.