Islamabad - As the world is observing ‘No Tobacco Day’ today (Tuesday), the activists held a protest demonstration against the government for bringing down cigarette prices in the proposed budget. People from all walks of life gathered outside the National Press Club demanding the government to withdraw the proposal of introduction of third tier in tobacco taxation allowing international tobacco industry to introduce cheaper cigarettes to be easily accessible to children.

In the proposed budget, the finance ministry has reduced the Federal Excise Duty (FED) on pack of 20 cigarettes from Rs32.98 to Rs16 by introducing third tier. There is almost no change in the FED on upper slab.  The protesters, while criticising the government for lowering the cigarette prices to that of counterfeit brands in the proposed budget, argued that this step will only increase the number of child smokers in the country.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) The Network Nadeem Iqbal said that for consumers the government has taken us five years back as in the proposed finance bill, Pakistan has revised its tobacco excise tax system in 2017-18, again moving from two-tiered to three tiered system.

Previously it was modified in 2013 moving from three- tiered, mixed, ad valorem plus specific taxes, to a two tiered specific tax for cigarettes, he added. “Finance and commerce ministries are in support of tobacco industry while health ministry has recommended raise in tobacco taxes,” he said. Earlier, Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHS) had written a letter to Finance Ministry and FBR for an increase in the FED on lower slab of all brands of cigarettes from the current Rs32.98 to Rs44 per pack of 20 cigarettes.

Talking to The Nation National Coordinator, Coalition for Tobacco Control Pakistan (CTC-Pak) Khurram Hashmi said that people of Pakistan are still waiting for the government to fulfill its two years old commitment to implement 85 per cent enhanced Graphical Health Warning on cigarette packs. “More than 5,55,000 children continue to use tobacco each day. Youth are considered as future of nation. It means our future is at stake,” he said. The civil society activists at the picket were critical of government’s retrogressive measure to endanger the lives of the people, saying these will damage Pakistan’s efforts to meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets especially SDGsgoal 3a, “Strengthen the implementation of FCTC in all countries”.

Pakistan is signatory to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which calls in its article 6 for “Price and tax Measures to reduce the Demand for Tobacco” by raising FED to at least 75 per cent.