Wednesday December 06, 2023

Epidemic of Non-Communicable Diseases: SAPM seeks hike in taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages

May 23, 2021

KARACHI: The Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHS,R&C) has recommended the Finance Ministry to raise the taxes on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) including carbonated drinks in the coming budget to make them inaccessible to masses due to their health hazards, The News has learnt.

“Yes. The Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Faisal Sultan has sent a recommendation to the Finance Minister to raise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages on the request from health experts, especially eminent diabetologists of Pakistan”, an official of the NHS,R&C confirmed on Saturday.

The National Health Services official, who requested anonymity, said the Dr Faisal Sultan decided to recommend for increasing taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and carbonated drinks after the Diabetic Association of Pakistan (DAP) wrote letters to health authorities as well as the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) officials, requesting them to make the ‘artificially-sweetened beverages’ unaffordable for most of the population in Pakistan for their health hazards.

“It is not upto the Finance Ministry and FBR officials to decide whether to accept the recommendation or not but the moment, Pakistan is facing an epidemic of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), especially diabetes, obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular ailments, which are all inter-linked and need to controlled simultaneously”, the health official added.

Referring the letter of DAP, the official said it had demanded the authorities to double the taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in the coming budget, saying diabetes is growing at an alarming rate in Pakistan, which has the 4th highest burden of type 2 diabetes worldwide with more than 19 million cases.

On the other hand, eminent diabetologist and Secretary General of DAP Prof. Abdul Basit said the DAP had requested increasing the Federal Excise Duty from 11.5% to 20% on sugar- sweetened beverages (SSBs), which are, unfortunately, becoming an increasingly essential part of household food consumption with more than a 10 percent point increase in the last few years along with a gradual increase in production and decrease in the price.

“We have also learnt that health authorities are also convinced that taxes and federal excise duty on sugar-sweetened beverages should be increased to reduce their consumption in Pakistan. Let’s hope that Finance Ministry consider it seriously and take decision in the better interest of people”, Prof Abdul Basit said.

According to him, SSBs including soft drinks, are any liquids that are sweetened with various forms of added sugars and include products ranging from sodas to flavoured milk. “High consumption of these SSBs is one of the major causes of obesity and related NCDs including diabetes. Unfortunately, SSBs are becoming an increasingly essential part of household food consumption. Increasing intake of SSBs is major concern for public health experts as this will continue to increase obesity and related diseases like diabetes.”

He maintained that DAP represents people living with diabetes mellitus in Pakistan, which was a major public health burden and a threat to the economy of the country. He warned that diabetes was growing at an alarming rate in the country, and as per 2nd National Diabetes Survey of Pakistan 2016-17, every 4th Pakistani adult is suffering from type 2 diabetes.

“Overweight and obesity are key risk factors leading to early development of diabetes. According to the Non-Communicable Disease (NCDs) Steps Survey (2014-15), more than four out of ten adults of Pakistan are obese or overweight, while 37 percent have hypertension,”

The eminent diabetologist maintained that there was an urgent need to create an enabling environment by making policy changes to decrease the consumption of these SSBs. He said increasing the tax on SSBs was an evidence-based first step to reduce obesity and related diseases like diabetes. “This policy has been adopted by more than 40 countries. The evidence from India, South Africa, Mexico, Australia and other countries confirms the effectiveness of increases in taxes on SSBs to reduce its consumption, reduction in obesity and related disease.”

WHO and the World Bank (WB) also recommended increasing taxes on SSBs to reduce obesity and related diseases like diabetes, but he deplored that Pakistan had low taxes on SSBs in comparison to countries in the region like India and Maldives and many other countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, he further said.

“On behalf of the association, I request the federal government to make following changes through the Finance Bill 2021-22: Increase Federal Excise Duty on SSBs from 11.5 to 20 per cent, and create a category of SSBs to include sugary drinks beyond aerated water (juices, energy drinks, flavoured milk, iced tea, nectars etc.) to impose minimum of 20 per cent excise tax.”