ISLAMABAD - Tobacco is the single largest preventable cause of death in world and killing above 160,000 people annually in the country, said parliamentary secretary for National Health Services on Monday.  Dr Nausheen Hamid was speaking on the occasion of launch of a report on “Burden of illicit trade in cigarettes in Islamabad”, by FFO, a think tank working on NCDs and tobacco control issues.

She said that the pilot study carried out to measure the burden of illicit trade in cigarettes in Islamabad would be helpful in strategizing tobacco control in Pakistan, especially while taking tobacco taxation measures for reducing demand of cigarettes.

Talking about the burden of tobacco use in the country, she said that tobacco use was the single largest preventable cause of death in the world. Tobacco kills around 1660,00 people every year in Pakistan. In Pakistan, 23.9m adult populations use tobacco in any form. She said that the annual economic cost of smoking in Pakistan is as high as Rs143.208 billion.

She expressed satisfaction on the findings of the study which revealed that there are only 15.95% of the cigarettes per day consumed in Islamabad, classified as illicit. She said that based on the overblown figures of illicit trade in cigarettes, the policy of reducing cigarette prices was introduced by FBR in the last government regime. Globally, tobacco industry lobbies for favorable tax structure arguing that an increase in taxes will harm the economy and increase illicit trade. However, evidence from this report shows that the burden of illicit trade in cigarettes in Islamabad is almost half than quoted by tobacco industry. The report also counters the tobacco industry arguments about shifting of smokers towards cheaper brands if priceis increased, by revealing that 61% of the smokers would quit or reduce smoking if prices were increased. Only 8% of the smokers would opt for cheaper cigarettes if price is increased.

Earlier, Dr Ziauddin Islam briefed on rational and intended benefits of the study in strategizing tobacco taxation policy reforms in Pakistan.

Project Manager FFO Faisal gave a detailed presentation on the study. He told the participants that 15.95% of cigarettes per day consumed in Islamabad were classified as illicit. These cigarette brands failed to comply with the six-factor criteria i.e. pictorial health warnings, textual health warning, low price, age warning, manufacturer details and printing of retail price.

Out of 15.95%, only 10.74% of cigarettes were illicit as smuggled and 5.2% cigarettes were illicit as low priced or duty not paid (DNP). These DNP cigarettes met all the criteria of legitimate brands but selling on low price (PKR 25-40), which labelled these as illicit cigarettes.

He further said that smoking was inversely related to academic qualification and price, the respondents appear to be less educated (65.7% were matriculate or below), 25.5% were willing to quit smoking if the price of cigarettes be doubled. While 36.2% were of the opinion to reduce smoking if price of cigarettes be doubled.