New minister welcomed, urged for taxing tobacco

ISLAMABAD  -  In the midst of Pakistan’s deeply troubled econo­my, marked by plummeting reserves, a precarious balance of payments situation and high inflation, experts and anti-tobacco activists have stepped forward with a strategic recommendation of in­creasing tobacco taxation to bolster the economy. 

The Society for the Protection of Rights of the Child (SPARC) warmly welcomed the appoint­ment of Muhammad Aurangzeb as the country’s new minister and urged him to consider tobacco taxation as a potential avenue for bolstering the economy. Such a measure could potentially offer a dual benefit of mitigating economic woes while simultaneously advancing the nation’s health agenda, the SPARC said in a statement. 

SPARC shared the concerns of health activ­ists who advocate for higher taxes on cigarettes rather than utilities. This strategic approach not only aligns with public health goals but also ad­dresses the broader economic implications as­sociated with tobacco use, it added. “Pakistan can generate additional Rs17 billion revenue though a 26 percent increase in taxes on ciga­rette,” said Rabia Syed, Director IBC. “This pro­posal not only aims to address immediate fiscal pressures but also aligns with broader public health objectives by discouraging tobacco con­sumption as outlined by the WHO” she added. 

She said that Pakistan was one of the top to­bacco-consuming countries standing at the 7th position globally and 1st in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR) in terms of the number of tobacco product users. According to an estimate the country produces more than 60 billion sticks of cigarettes every year but when it comes to revenue the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) data shows all tax collection targets were missing during last seven years. Malik Imran Ahmad, country head for Campaign for Tobac­co-Free Kids (CTFK), appealed to the newly ap­pointed Finance Minister, Muhammad Aurang­zeb, to recognize the significant challenge posed by tobacco consumption in Pakistan. He said with approximately 31.9 million adults consum­ing tobacco, accounting for 19.7 percent of the adult population, the impact on public health and the economy cannot be overstated.

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