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Smoking causes 166,000 deaths per year: study

Islamabad

May 16, 2020

Islamabad : Tobacco use causes over 166,000 deaths annually in Pakistan and increases the financial and health burdens of the users, said Azhar Saleem, CEO of Human Development Foundation (HDF), citing a study.

He said attempts are being made in the run-up to budget to influence policy makers not to put higher taxes on smoking industry.

He said the excuse for avoiding higher taxes is alleged illicit trade of cigarettes. In an online press briefing session, he said the pre-budget time is crucial for policy makers and tobacco control activists for increasing the taxes on tobacco products.

It has been reported that tax officers have recently found from an abandoned factory about 60 million sticks of illegally manufactured cigarettes.

However, it is claimed that illicit trade of cigarette is causing Rs44 billion losses to national exchequer. Cigarette producers have sponsored a study, which claims 44% of tobacco trade is illegal. In 2017-18, through a new tax structure, a loss of Rs42 billion was caused to the government due to relax taxing of tobacco sector.

Malik Imran, representative of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK), stated that last year, two research studies were jointly conducted by HDF, Pakistan National Heart Association (PANAH) and Fikr-e-Fardan Organization (HDF). Both the studies showed the volume of illicit trade of cigarettes to be at 10% to 15%. Recently, another study was conducted by ASTRA in 10 major cities of Pakistan which revealed that the volume of illicit trade of cigarettes is 16%. The study was conducted over seven months with a total of 8,589 sample packs of cigarettes as sample.

In another study conducted by Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC), it was found that the industry under reports its total production and evades taxes as a result. The undocumented cigarettes are being sold by the industry in black market, with the intention to increase illicit trade.

These studies and investigations necessitate the implementation of a transparent and fair Track and Trace system which will help in reducing the illicit trade of cigarettes. Through this under reporting, the industry caused a loss of Rs. 37 billion in 2016-17 in government revenues.

Azhar Saleem also stated that tobacco industry is causing an economic burden of Rs192 billion per year. He urged the government to increase taxes on tobacco products as higher taxes will lead to more revenues and limit the access of youth to this deadly product.