ISLAMABAD  -   The civil society and health experts advocating for tobacco control in the country welcomed the government’s move of considering the imposition of ‘sin tax’ on tobacco products.

Secretary General Pakistan National Heart Association (PANAH), Sanaullah Ghumman while talking to The Nation on Wednesday said that the government had taken an appreciable step by considering imposing the sin tax on tobacco products. He said that imposing maximum duties on tobacco would help in reducing its consumption as a major portion of the population would not be able to afford it.

“Common man and especially children will not purchase the cigarette pack if their prices are increased,” he said.

Sanaullah Ghumman said that the group held a meeting with the President in the month of October and recommended to increase the prices declaring the tobacco consumption as a sin.

He said that the president and the minister for National Health Services gave a positive nod on their recommendation. He also said that top government authorities were also directed to launch a National Health Campaign in the country with the collaboration of health ministry.

He said that the efforts to control the tobacco consumption was underway for last two years; however, in every budget, the proposal of increasing tax on cigarettes was not adopted.

“Health ministry supported increasing cigarette prices; however, certain strong lobbies always opposed the move,” he said.

He said that the advocacy for less tobacco consumption had been launched for better health of common men.

Health expert Dr Shareef Astori while talking to The Nation said that imposition of maximum tax on the tobacco products would contribute positively to public health. He said that tobacco consumption was contributing in the growing number of cardiac and cancer patients. “Cigarettes have become affordable for children carrying pocket money,” he said.

He added that in the rural areas of the country, the percentage of low-quality tobacco consumption is very high in male and females.

The imposition of sin tax on tobacco products will also help in controlling pollution in the country which is a major cause of respiratory problems in the country.

He said that increase of tax on tobacco products would give financial damage to the tobacco industry but Pakistan could afford giving priority to financial benefit on public health.

The minister for National Health Services had stated that the government will introduce and impose ‘sin tax’ on tobacco products.

The minister Aamer Mehmmod Kiyani said that government would table a bill of sin tax on the tobacco products and the revenue generated from it would be spent on public health and education. He said that the government from its revenue generated through the health taxes would provide health insurance to hundred percent population of the country.

Earlier, ministry of NHS had intimated the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to eliminate the third slab of cigarettes as they were available in lower prices to common man.

Health ministry before presentation of budget raising its concerns before the FBR had stated that the ministry had to achieve its global targets signed with World Health Organisation regarding controlling tobacco consumption in the country.

The health ministry had put its concerns before the FBR, finance division and legislative bodies dealing with tobacco industry to end the third slab. The Health ministry had stated that the easy accessibility of the third slab of cigarettes to the customers created the biggest hurdle for health ministry in reducing tobacco consumption.

The ministry has asked FBR to implement only two slabs which are in international practice and end the third slab which covers the price from Rs35 to 55 approximately, added an official.

According to the study conducted by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Pakistan is among the developing countries with a high tobacco prevalence and high mortality rate. More than 100,000 people die due to tobacco inducted diseases, according to the report. The study conducted on national treasury versus public health 2018-19, it was learned that there were above 23.9 million tobacco users in the country, out of which 125,000 were dying every year because of tobacco-induced diseases.