ISLAMABAD - Anti-tobacco activists on Wednesday showed their concern about the high prevalence of smoking among youth and requested the government to increase the taxes on tobacco by 30 percent to dampen the consumption.

Society for the Protection of Rights of the Child (SPARC) organized a dialog on saving the young generation from tobacco hazards through Sustainable Measures in Pakistan, said a news release.

Dr Ziauddin Islam, former technical head, tobacco control cell, Ministry of Health said youth was the main victim of the tobacco industry. The industry considered adolescents as replacement smokers, he added. Unfortunately, cigarettes in our country are available at some of the cheapest rates in the region, which makes them affordable for youth. As children are price sensitive, increasing tobacco taxes to 30 percent will help prevent youth from starting to smoke.

He said “tobacco taxation is a major component of a comprehensive tobacco control strategy. To completely understand the benefits, it is necessary to understand the impact of increased taxes among high-risk sub-populations. Raising taxes on tobacco is widely regarded as the most effective and cost-effective measure to reduce tobacco use. Higher cigarette taxation can serve a dual objective of public health promotion and revenue generation in Pakistan”.

Program Manager SPARC, Khalil Ahmed mentioned the poverty element, while speaking of affordability he said daily 1200 Pakistani children between the ages of 6-15 years started smoking every day. It was very disturbing that 15.3 percent of teens started smoking before the age of 15, he added.

He also mentioned the health cost due to tobacco-related diseases was Rs 615 billion which was 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s GDP.

Taxation on tobacco should be increased to balance the health deficit and to reduce its consumption, he added. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Chromatic Trust, Shariq Mahmood Khan said smoking was one of the leading causes of preventable deaths globally.

Among various policy interventions to reduce cigarette consumption, tobacco taxation is the most effective. Evidence suggests that higher cigarette taxes deter smoking initiation, reduce cigarette consumption, and even lead smokers to quit. Hence, the price-increase strategy through taxation effectively reduces the overall prevalence of smoking.