Deputy Speaker National Assembly, Qasim Khan Suri, assured that he would personally act in the matter of the implementation of the tax on tobacco, which was already approved by the Cabinet and should have been applied by the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) in 2019.
He was speaking at a seminar by the Human Development Foundation (HDF) held at the Serena Hotel Islamabad today, where he was the Chief Guest. Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Dr. Nausheen Hamid, was the Guest of Honor.
The deputy speaker said that tobacco use is the leading cause of non-communicable diseases. Researches have shown that in most countries, smoking prevalence and rates of smoking-related diseases are highest in the lower-income sections of society.
He further remarked that tobacco taxes could be a sustainable source of revenue for the government’s relief packages for underprivileged persons.
CEO Human Development Foundation, Mr. Azhar Saleem, stated that Pakistan is among the countries with high tobacco burdens concerning health. According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), lead by the World Health Organization (WHO), 19.1 percent of adults in Pakistan used tobacco in any form, which may translate into a population of over 22 million adults.
Consequently, tobacco-related diseases are on the rise, and according to an estimate, over 160,000 people die every year from tobacco-related diseases.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), increasing taxes on tobacco is proven to be the most effective policy to decrease the consumption of tobacco.
Director Public Health Program Health Services Academy (HAS), Dr. Shahzad Ali Khan, stated that Health Levy (globally known as Sin Tax) is an excise tax on socially harmful goods.
An excise tax is a flat tax imposed on each item sold. The most taxed goods are alcohol, cigarettes, sugary drinks, etc. Excise taxes are collected from the producer or wholesaler. They drive up the retail price for consumers. In the 2019-2020 budget, the Cabinet approved the health levy bill on cigarettes and sugary drinks.
Under this bill, Rs. 10 per pack of cigarettes and Rs. 1 per 250ml of sugary drinks were proposed.
Despite the approval of the Cabinet, the FBR never presented the bill in the National Assembly. Through this bill, the government could have generated an additional amount of around Rs. 55 billion in revenues.
This revenue amount can be utilized for supporting government welfare programs such as the Ehsaas Program.
The representative of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Malik Imran, stated that last year, the Federal Cabinet had approved the health levy on cigarettes and sugary beverages. “However, it could not be included in the finance bills of last year and the current year. As per our calculations, the exchequer has faced a loss of at least Rs. 50 billion from July 2019 to June 2020,” he said.
Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Dr. Nausheen Hamid, stated that the WHO has estimated that 100 million people fall into poverty (defined by low food expenditure) annually due to out-of-pocket health expenditures with a majority of these expenditures used for the treatment of non-communicable diseases.
This has serious consequences for public health. In Pakistan, tobacco consumption costs a health burden worth Rs. 140 billion due to costs related to health care and loss of productivity due to pre-mature deaths in 2012.
Tobacco control champions urged the government to take notice of the delay in the Health Levy Bill and prioritize the health of the citizens for a prosperous Pakistan.