Civil society demands more tobacco-related taxes in coming budget

Health activists and civil society organizations have demanded of the government to increase taxes on cigarettes.

Taxation is a key revenue source for any government and taxing non-essential items such as tobacco leads not only to a cut in budget deficit but also in the expenditure on diseases.  Sanaullah Ghumman, from PANAH, has long been advocating to discourage smoking in society as it causes diseases. He has stated that the government has to impose taxes on cigarettes on a regular basis as per recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Malik Imran, Country Head, Campaign for tobacco-free kids (CTFK), has mentioned that due to government’s decision of increasing Federal Excise Duty (FED) on cigarettes in February 2023, an additional 11.3 billion FED revenue was obtained in fiscal year 2022-23 which is an increase of 9.7% from the previous year. Furthermore, an additional 4.4 billion VAT revenue was obtained in fiscal year 2022-23 which is an increase of 11.5% from the previous year. This additional 15.7 billion revenue makes up 0.201% of GDP which is a significant boost for a struggling economy like Pakistan, he said. 

Imran mentioned that these self-explanatory figures reveal that increased taxation is beneficial for economy but the tobacco industry misleads everyone by crying the illicit trade excuse. Imran added that the blown up figure of illicit trade is used to divert people from the underreporting. These companies under-report their production and then sell their non-reported products in the illicit market, causing billions of loss to the national exchequer.

Dr. Ziauddin Islam, a retired government employee, has said that tobacco is the largest silent killer in Pakistan as above 170,000 people die due to tobacco use each year. This pandemic also causes an annual economic burden of 615 billion which is 1.6% of Pakistan’s GDP. He explained that increased prices bring a decrease to production and consumption which decrease the health cost burden.

According to the estimates, there has been 31.7% decline in declared production of cigarettes in fiscal year 2022-23 compared to the previous year. Learning from this example, which is also recommended by World Health Organization, Pakistan should increase taxes on regular intervals so that inflation and per capita income is accounted for and Pakistanis remain protected from harms of tobacco products.

Khalil Ahmed Dogar, Program Manager SPARC said that the children of Pakistan are being targeted by the tobacco industry so that “replacement smokers” could be recruited. Around 1200 Pakistani children between ages of 6-15 years start smoking every day. He mentioned that on average Pakistani smokers spend 10% of their monthly income on cigarettes. Therefore increased prices remain the most effective tool in keeping these killer products away from spending power of children and low-incomed groups.

Khalil added that all stakeholders must cast their differences aside and unite to protect our children and youth from the harms of tobacco. Increasing tobacco taxes is such a step which should be regularly implemented.

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