Gunah Tax! Even a puritanical interpretation of religion will laugh at the concept of the sin tax, for if its sin to smoke, then the government should not allow tobacco business at all. While speaking at a public health conference at Health Service Academy, the Minister for National Health Services (NHS) Aamer Mahmood Kiani revealed that a sin tax would be imposed on cigarettes and sugary beverages. The director general of NHS Ministry, Dr Asad Hafeez tried to justify the use of the term sin tax by citing examples from the rest of the world. Confessed that there are many countries where the concept is in practice on alcoholic products, however, in Pakistan religious references take a different meaning.

No one will resist the government in imposing more tax on the tobacco industry. Many people have consistently argued that the state must start taxing health hazards and damaging products a premium. Taxing such products is standard policy across the world, and the practice has been proved instrumental in bringing down the consumption of cigarettes and other such health hazards. Pakistan also needs to follow suit. Two reasons suffice for the case. First, the industry is loosely taxed. Second, tobacco use in the country is widespread.

However, the vocabulary that the government is intending to use for the purpose is problematic. How is it sin to consume cigarettes let alone the carbonated drinks? It is very likely that the government may face resistance from the manufacturers over the nomenclature, as they would ask the state the same question. Moreover, taxing products on the perceived morality of something is a problem in its own right. The government’s decision to tax the hazardous products is a welcome move. There are, indeed, legitimate reasons for this tax – the burden on healthcare and the need to bolster healthcare funds – and the government can cite these reasons as the rationale for taxing these sectors instead of invoking the concept of “sin” tax.