ISLAMABAD                     -                      The anti-tobacco advocates on Thursday urged government for imposing additional tax on tobacco products to generate around Rs40 billion revenue during novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.

Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) organised an online session on tobacco taxation here where the anti-tobacco advocates have urged the government to take measures to reduce the consumption of cigarettes because of the risks associated with COVID-19 for smokers.

The speakers called for imposing a surcharge of Rs10 to raise cigarette prices, an effective method of decreasing cigarette consumption while generating Rs40 billion in revenue.

Officials at the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) said that though multi-national tobacco companies contribute in the national exchequer, however number of local manufacturers is out of the net tax for which the ministry is taking efforts.

A senior official with the anti-tobacco program of the ministry said that local cigarette industries are working in Khyber Pakthunkhwa (KP), Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and some other parts of the county.

The official said that bringing the local industry of cigarette into tax net will increase the tax revenue upto  Rs44 billion for the national exchequer.  

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

He said 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.

Campaign for Tobacco free Kids, Pakistan office representative  Malik Imran  Ahmed 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 corona pandemic in the country.

He added 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.

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