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November 15, 2020

PM Imran Khan pushed for intervention in cigarette health levy

Islamabad

November 15, 2020

Islamabad : Speakers during a policy dialogue on tobacco taxation in the country on Saturday urged the prime minister to intervene for the imposition of health levy on cigarettes.

The event was organised by the Society for Protection of Rights of the Child at a local hotel.

SPARC Executive Director Sajjad Ahmed Cheema said in June 2019, the federal cabinet had decided to implement a healthy levy on tobacco products but the bill meant to make tobacco products unaffordable for low-income groups and children had been going back and forth between the FBR, healthy ministry and finance ministry.

He said the FBR had declared it'd no issues with implementation of healthy levy, so the long delay in this matter was a disappointing shock showing public health is not a priority matter for the government.

Country head of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids Malik Imran Ahmad demanded an investigation to determine why the decision of the federal cabinet to impose a health levy on tobacco could not be implemented.

He demanded of the prime minister to take its notice.

"As a result of the delay in the bill's approval, the country lost Rs55 billion last year. Health levy on cigarettes and sugary drinks would have generated Rs55 billion in revenue which could be used for healthcare infrastructure," he said.

Senator Muhammad Ali Saif said on average, smokers in Pakistan spent 10% of their average monthly income on cigarettes.

"When people spend their income on tobacco products, they are left with less money available for essential services such as child nutrition and education. Increasing tobacco taxes is a proven policy to help reduce tobacco consumption as per the WHO’s recommendations."

He said according to a World Bank report, Pakistan should annually increase the excise rates by at least 30% on cigarettes to ensure the reduction in cigarette consumption and the growth of tobacco revenue.

FBR Member (Inland Revenue Policy) Ch Muhammad Tarique and Chief Sales Tax & FED Policy Wing Tariq Hussain Sheikh said the large fiscal imbalances in Pakistan required greater tax revenues.

"Tobacco taxation can positively contribute to government revenues. FBR played a key role in removal of third tier which was in the line with WHO requirements agreed by Pakistan. The FBR’s focus is not only on generating revenues but also on reducing consumption of tobacco and any government policy in this regard will be highly appreciated," he said.

Deputy Director (Programmes) at the national health services ministry Dr. Samara Mazhar said according to the Pakistan Health Research Council that tobacco consumption cost the country Rs192 billion due to diseases and loss of productivity but in comparison, the revenue generated from tobacco taxation is only Rs115 billion.

"This large fiscal imbalance requires increasing the taxation. Any government policy, such as the imposition of the pending health levy will be highly appreciated," she said.

The participants said tobacco consumption was a health issue, had serious repercussions on poverty and economic stability, child development, child education, child labour, and had become a child protection issue as well.

They urged the government to remain steadfast to overcome any challenges thrown by big tobacco industry in order to safeguard Pakistani children from harms of tobacco.