Health Levy

According to the World Health Organization, eight million (80 lacs) people worldwide die from smoking-related diseases yearly. Among them, twelve lac people do not smoke themselves but are exposed to its smoke due to smoking in the environment. More than one billion people worldwide smoke, of which eighty percent (80%) are from developing countries. In Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia, the rate of smoking is increasing rapidly, and the main reason for this increase is the young population of these countries. In developed countries, sixty percent (60%) of men in Japan and China are smokers. Moreover, Twelve percent (12%) of the smoking population includes women, while one lac children start smoking every day.
According to my observation, it has been seen that many talented and good boys are ruined due to smoking. According to medical experts, an average smoker dies fifteen (15) years earlier since one cigarette shortens a person’s life by eight minutes because it contains more than Four thousand (4,000) harmful substances.
Pakistan signed and ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2004, wherein signatory countries are required to increase excise duty on cigarettes to Seventy percent (70%) and pictorial warnings to Eighty-Five percent (85%) are mandatory on cigarette packs. However, Pakistan is lagging so far since anticipating the Convention on Tobacco Control.
In June 2019, after removing the objections of the concerned departments, a health levy bill was presented to the federal cabinet in which it was decided to impose a health levy on the products. This decision was taken to protect the health of low-income or middle-class groups and children by keeping tobacco products out of their reach. But, it is regrettable that some key government members of the time repeatedly obstructed the implementation of this initiative. Because, for them, the development of the tobacco industry was more important than public health. Indeed, National development at the cost of public health is useless.
Currently, the tobacco industry claims to be the largest tax-paying company in the country. Still, its contribution to the national exchequer is far less than it should be. Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), tobacco consumption has a health burden of Rupees six hundred fifteen (615) billion, which is (1.6%) percent of our (GDP), compared to a mere Rupees one hundred fifteen (115) billion in revenue from tobacco taxation.
In Pakistan, the tax rate on cigarettes is lower than in many countries in the world, according to the World Health Organization, and Pakistan should increase cigarette prices by at least Rupees Thirty (30) per pack to reduce consumption and health costs. However Prime Minister’s efforts to improve Pakistan’s economy are commendable, but public health is also a promise that Prime Minister has made many times.
Today, it is high time to understand that; Children are the group most affected by tobacco use. Due to easy and cheap purchasing power, about twelve hundred (1,200) Pakistani children start smoking daily. Prime Minister should intervene in this matter and take immediate notice of the delay in implementing the health levy. This measure could save one lac seventy thousand (170,000) precious lives lost yearly due to tobacco-related diseases.
It is pertinent to note here that the Tobacco Health Levy Bill is ready to be tabled in Parliament. Its immediate implementation can earn Rupees Sixty (60) billion in government revenue. This revenue can help reduce the tobacco industry’s damage to health infrastructure and the economy.
Nonetheless, the Government should impose health levy on tobacco products as soon as possible to protect Pakistani children and youth from the tobacco epidemic. Health levies on cigarettes can only discourage smoking, and their implementation will increase revenue. It can be helpful in preventing diseases like heart, cancer, diabetes, stroke, etc.
On the other hand, according to the targets set for Pakistan in the Sustainable Development Goals, Pakistan must comply to prevent one-third of premature deaths caused by tobacco by 2030. It is necessary to implement a health tax on tobacco, in which case imposing a health levy is the only way for the Government to achieve the above target and to reduce tobacco use among the youth. According to Tobacconomics, the tobacco policy can be controlled for Thirty (30) years; Pakistan has one point thirteen (1.13) out of five (5) points on the cigarette tax scorecard of one hundred sixty (160) countries in the study, which is much worse than other countries.
A global perspective on tobacco control
The United Nations Health Organization (WHO) estimates that sixty-five thousand (65,000) children die each year from exposure to secondhand smoke, i.e., passive smoking. Children exposed to someone else’s secondhand smoke are also at increased risk of ear infections, potentially leading to hearing loss and deafness. The world health organization also argues that there is strong support for smoking bans among smokers and non-smokers alike. However, reducing tobacco use is not easy. An analysis by Grandview Research estimates that the industry was worth $850 billion in 2021. It is almost twice the economic GDP of Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. The World Bank estimates Nigeria’s economy was worth $430 billion in 2020.
It is worth noting here, in the recent report of Grandview Research, the growing demand for tobacco is “sustained by the growing number of smokers in the developing regions of Asia and Africa.” Moreover, “the tobacco market size is expected to reach one thousand forty-nine point nine (1049.9) billion USD by 2030”.
Big tobacco companies have huge budgets and resources to protect their business interests flout health regulations and sometimes succeed in delaying smoking bans or amendments globally. Regardless, many countries have enacted the most comprehensive laws in terms of implementation with the true spirit of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’s guidelines for tobacco control. For example, in 2007, England, Wales and, Northern Ireland, Kazakhstan smoke-free laws banned smoking in 2018. Similarly, Greece, Bulgaria, Malta, Spain and Hungry enacted the strictest smoke-free provisions in their countries.
In June 2010, Bhutan was the first nation to enact a tobacco control act in which the respective Parliament declared smoking entirely illegal.
In the most recent development, New Zealand imposed a lifetime ban on smoking for youth by banning the sale of tobacco products to people born after 2009.
In the above discussion, it is finalized that, strict laws are being made worldwide to protect the youth from smoking. Still, in Pakistan, where there are already weak anti-smoking laws, a multi-national tobacco company is being benefited in the closed rooms of the government houses. The legislative process is ongoing. In recent legislation, the ruling Government has passed a statutory regulatory order (SRO) to legalize the sale of heated tobacco products.
In Pakistan, there is a dire need to secure the future of the youth; smoking should be restricted by imposing a heavy health levy. For instant, the Health levy bill 2019 must be enacted with its true spirit. On the other hand, Parents are also requested to help their children eliminate addictions like smoking. Instead of being harsh and beating them, make them aware of its harm. A cigarette smoked for a few moments of entertainment can plunge their future into darkness.
In addition, it is worth mentioning that media is the fourth pillar of the state; people value the media in today’s modern times, where the lifestyle has changed. It is therefore, such factors can only be identified in society by highlighting the problems on social media. Likewise, Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including heart, stroke, cancer, diabetes and lung diseases, are causing sixty-eight percent (68%) of deaths in Pakistan. Fifty-one percent (51%) of the burden of NCDs is mostly among young adults. Hence, hereafter Social media should be utilized to play a positive role in the reduction of tobacco.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He Tweets at @MAkhter_

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