ISLAMABAD-Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) has withdrawn the word  ‘sin’ from the newly proposed tax to be imposed on tobacco and sugary beverages replacing it with ‘Health Tax’ to avoid public controversy, The Nation learned on Monday. The ministry earlier this month had announced proposing the ‘sin tax’ on tobacco and sugary beverages earlier this month to discourage the consumption of the items. The ministry had made the announcement to control the tobacco consumption for public health.  An official informed The Nation that the ministry has decided to change the name of the proposed ‘sin tax’ after it received resistance and criticism from the public, as it was found conflicting with the local public environment.

The official said that the Urdu translation of the word ‘sin’ had started a debate on different forums and general public was reluctant to accept the word ‘sin’ for consumption of the products for which the tax was proposed. The official also added that the summary of the new tax has been prepared for the legislative process however; the ministry has adopted the name ‘health tax’ instead of ‘sin tax’.

The official also said that the working groups lobbying for the control of tobacco consumption had also pleaded before the minster for health and minister for finance to replace the word ‘sin’ with ‘health’ as it was more adaptive with the local culture of the country.  A letter written to federal minister for health Aamir Mehmmod Kiyani and federal minister for finance Asad Umar by Pakistan National Heart Association (PANAH)  urged the ministries to call the law under preparation ‘health tax’.

The letter stated that it is appreciable that after a long time, the present government is proposing to impose new taxes on sale of tobacco products and sugary/fizzy drinks.  This step goes a long way for prevention of heart disease, lung disease and many other fatal diseases in our people and would reduce mortality; disability and misery of scores of people. This would in time, substantially reduce the burden on the health budget as well, it was stated in the letter.

It also stated that PANAH has been advocating with great efforts for reducing consumption of sugar, fat and cessation of tobacco use in public and has been pleading to successive governments for the positive steps, which have now been taken.

 

It suggested two considerations to both the ministries for the upcoming tax. The letter stated that the name of the proposed taxes ‘Sin Tax’ is not very palatable and may open a negative debate in public on ethical and religious grounds.  “We propose ‘Preventive Health Tax’ or simple ‘Health Surcharge’ which is more likely to be acceptable.

The letter also appealed that the income from these taxes should be earmarked for preventive health measures for cardiovascular and other non-communicable diseases (like diabetes, cancer, lungs diseases, obesity etc) through the federal ministry of National Health Services.  Secretary General PANAH Sannaullah Ghumman talking to The Nation said that PANAH moved a suggestion to government regarding replacing the term ‘Sin’ with ‘Health’ as it had started a debate on public level.

He said that the health ministry endorsed the suggestion and termed the tax as ‘health tax’. “It’s also an appreciable move by the government to avoid unnecessary controversies,” he said.  Director General (DG) NHS Dr Asad Hafeez talking to The Nation said that the tax proposed has been imposed with different names in different countries. And it is being collected from around 42 countries in the world.  He said the tax has two basic requirements including its imposition on health hazard goods and its income should be implementing on health.  The DG health also stated that the summary has been prepared and sent to ECC for approval while the whole legislation process will take few months before its implementation.  Health ministry in its official statements has also termed ‘sin tax’ as ‘health tax’.

Spokesperson NHS Sajid Husain Shah said that word ‘sin’ was being perceived in general public negatively. He said that the tax would be termed with any acceptable name and could be replaced with ‘health tax’.