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‘Higher tobacco taxation to help fight COVID-19’

Islamabad

May 2, 2020

Islamabad : Anti-tobacco advocates have called for higher taxation on tobacco products saying it will help fight the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

During an online session organised by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, they urged the government to take measures for reduction in the consumption of cigarettes over risks associated with COVID-19 for smokers.

According to them, a surcharge of Rs10 should be imposed to increase cigarette prices and thus, causing an effective reduction in cigarette consumption and generating Rs40 billion revenue.

SPARC Executive Director Sajjad Ahmad Cheema said Pakistan is one of the 15 countries worldwide with the heavy burden of tobacco related ill health issues. He said 1000-1200 Pakistani children aged between 6 and 15 years start smoking every day according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) results of 2015.

“Pakistan’s population consists of 60% youth below the age of 25 where alarming statistics of young people getting addicted and at risk of tobacco consumption calls for strict tax reforms and checks for selling cigarettes to the minors particularly. The worrisome aspect is the healthcare burden, which is 143 billion compared to revenue generation, which only stands at 83 billion currently, leading to loss to federal exchequer,” he said.

Malik Imran Ahmed of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Pakistan office, said billions of revenue can be immediately collected by the Government by revising taxes on just two products cigarettes and carbonated drinks and the generated revenue can be straight off invested in public’s health for fighting controlling coronavirus pandemic in the country.

"Both cigarettes and carbonated drinks have poor nutritious value and the sales trends show growing habit of smoking among youngsters and high consumption of soft drinks.

"Not only higher prices discourage youth from initiating cigarette smoking but encourage current smokers to quit, who are nowadays at a higher risk to coronavirus due to their decreased immunity," he said.

Malik said implementing tax price policies ultimately added to the national health objectives, which had already been provided in Article 6 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

He said efficient imposition of taxes on these can decrease people’s access as their consumption is injurious to health and was increasing health burden of the country.