‘Increase Taxes on Cigarettes, Not Utilities’

‘The government should prioritize increasing taxes on cigarettes to reduce the health cost burden and economic crisis.’

‘Increase Taxes on Cigarettes, Not Utilities’

The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), in a recent press release, shared statistics highlighting the significant burden tobacco use imposes on Pakistan, both in terms of public health and economic costs. Instead of increasing taxes on utilities such as electricity and gas, the government should prioritize increasing taxes on cigarettes to reduce the health cost burden and economic crisis.

Malik Imran Ahmad, Country Head of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), stated that Pakistan faces a considerable challenge in combating the tobacco menace. He also presented statistics showing a high prevalence of tobacco use in the country, with 31.9 million adults (15 years and older) consuming tobacco products, accounting for about 19.7% of the adult population.

He further added that tobacco-related illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, and heart diseases, contribute to over 160,000 deaths annually in Pakistan. These deaths not only affect individuals but also have broader impacts on families, communities, and the healthcare system.

Malik Imran proposed an immediate 30% FED increase in 2024, which can recover 19.8% of costs, narrowing the gap between health burdens and tax revenues. This tax proposal represents a clear 'win-win' in terms of health and revenue for the government and the people of Pakistan. Moreover, the recently initiated track and trace system on cigarettes is expected to reduce counterfeiting, restrain tax evasion, and maintain accountability.

Dr. Khalil Ahmad, program manager at SPARC, highlighted that low cigarette prices are the reason why children and youth initiate smoking. He added that smoking-related illnesses and deaths incur substantial economic costs, amounting to 1.6% of Pakistan's GDP each year.

These costs encompass healthcare expenses, productivity losses due to illness and premature death, as well as other indirect economic impacts. Additionally, he addressed the fact that the tobacco epidemic requires comprehensive strategies encompassing public health interventions, strong tobacco control policies, and awareness campaigns.

By tackling tobacco use, Pakistan can mitigate economic losses associated with smoking-related illnesses, potentially alleviate the burden on its healthcare system, and keep youth safe from the harms of tobacco use.