ISLAMABAD - Health experts have urged the government to impose health levy on tobacco products to save precious lives, which are at imminent fatal risk.

In a joint press release shared by Society for Protection of Rights of the Child (SPARC), the experts recommended the government to take this step, which has been pending since June 2019, said in press release issued here on Wednesday.

Malik Imran Ahmed, Country Head, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, shared that in June 2019, the federal cabinet decided to implement a healthy levy on tobacco products to protect the health of low-income groups and children by taking tobacco products out of their spending reach. Unfortunately, some key members from government, hailing from tobacco growing areas, repeatedly blocked this move.

Malik Imran added that tobacco industry claims to be an essential entity, however, tobacco use is the leading cause of death due to non-communicable diseases such as cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and cardiovascular disease. As many as 31 million adults (age 15+) or about one-fifth of the total adults currently use tobacco, according to Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC).

Khalil Ahmed Dogar, Program Manager, SPARC, mentioned that children and low-income people are primary target of tobacco industry and unfortunately, our tobacco control policies are making these groups more vulnerable. Quoting the research by SPDC, Khalil said that the average increase of 10.8 percent in excise tax on cigarette in Finance Bill 2022 is even lower than the 13.3 percent inflation; cigarettes will become affordable than two years ago. Therefore, it is important to impose healthy levy immediately otherwise the number of smokers in Pakistan will go beyond our control.

Shariq Ahmed, CEO, Chromatic Trust stated that the country is facing a severe economic crisis and the threat of COVID-19 pandemic still remains. Pakistan cannot afford to lose any more precious lives and money fighting the plague of tobacco consumption. The government needs to remain steadfast to overcome any challenges thrown by big tobacco industry. Along with health levy, the next steps are strict implementation of laws regarding graphic health warnings, promotion and advertising bans, and smoke-free places.