Islamabad-Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) is in the process of notifying 60percent pictorial health warning on cigarette packs which will be implemented next year, said parliamentary secretary for health.

Parliamentary secretary of NHS Dr Nausheen Hamid said this while addressing the gathering of national workshop on tobacco industry interference held here. She said that tobacco use was a cause of death of around 160,100 Pakistanis every year and this Ministry was taking demand and supply reduction measures to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use in the country.  “As a signatory to Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), Pakistan took numerous measures to protect public health policies with respect to tobacco control from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry,” she added.  Parliamentary Secretary said that about 24 million adults currently use tobacco in any form in Pakistan. The youth of Pakistan were being targeted by the tobacco industry so that “replacement smokers” could be recruited. To address this major health issue, this Ministry took demand and supply reduction measures. “We are in process of notifying Pictorial Health Warning of 60% size, which will be implemented from 1st June, 2019,” she said.   She also said that health ministry is coordinating with Ministry of Finance to increase taxes on tobacco products especially cigarettes.  Speaking on the occasion, WHO Representative Pakistan, Dr Ni’ma Saeed Abid said that the prevalence of tobacco product use in Pakistan is very high (19.1%) particularly among men (31.8%) and women (5.8 %). Youth and women are the prime target of tobacco industry. Sources said that after the announcement of ‘Sin Tax’ imposition on the tobacco products by the health ministry, the tobacco industry has started lobbying to stop the measures in order to non-implementation on the bill.

However, the NHS officials said that health ministry is committed to initiate the bill preparation as it is obligation for the country to reduce tobacco consumption following international accords.  The Federal Minister for NHS, Aamer Mehmood Kiyani, at the start of this month following the continuous lobbying efforts by the civil society reiterated the commitment of the present government to increase the health budget by 5% of the GDP.

“One of the various ways to increase the Health budget is by the implementation of sin tax for which we are sending a bill in the National Assembly.”, he affirmed. The civil society, including HDF, has been sensitizing the current government for the imposition of sin tax which is a tax levied on items considered undesirable and harmful to the human health; including tobacco, sugary products and alcohol. HDF in a statement said that Director General NHS Dr Asad Hafeez, contended that the sin-tax has already been imposed in around 45 countries of the world including, the Philippines, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. Our next-door neighbour India has also been able to charge a ‘sin-tax’ on Gutka and Paan. The subsequent governments are spending the collected gains on the development of their health sectors and Pakistan intends to do the same. Pakistan yearly spends around Rs. 140 billion on the tobacco related diseases, which is a huge liability on the health sector of the country.