Aurat Foundation Calls For Tobacco Tax Hike 

'The use of tobacco leads to over 337,500 deaths annually in Pakistan, amounting to 1.4% of the nation’s GDP each year.'

Aurat Foundation Calls For Tobacco Tax Hike 

Aurat Foundation advocates a 26 percent FED increase on cigarettes instead of burdening the public by imposing GST on petroleum.

Speaking at an iftar dinner for the newly elected MNAs, Naeem Ahmed Mirza, Executive Director, Aurat Foundation, urged the federal government for a tobacco tax hike in 2024 to increase the budget deficit and save lives. Pakistan presently operates with a two-tiered Federal Excise Duty (FED) structure for cigarettes, categorized by price tiers. He further added that by reducing tobacco consumption through higher taxes, the economic burden associated with tobacco-related diseases is lowered, potentially freeing up resources that can be allocated towards poverty reduction efforts such as targeted social programs and economic development initiatives.

He said that the Aurat Foundation recently joined the campaign for tobacco-free kids to strengthen monitoring and accountability mechanisms, improve public health, and enhance the overall well-being of the Pakistani young population.

Anees Ahmed, Country Advisor of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, while briefing the MNAs, informed them that following a substantial increase in 2022–23, the FED share in retail prices reached 48% and 68% for the low and high tiers, respectively. However, the leveling off of the FED share in 2023–24, due to the absence of rate adjustments, could adversely affect revenue and public health efforts. The Aurat Foundation proposes that a 26.6% FED increase in 2024 could recoup 19.8% of the costs, narrowing the gap between health burdens and tax revenues. A 26.6% FED hike could potentially lead to 517,000 fewer smokers, a 12.1% increase in tax revenue, and a 19.8% recovery of health costs.

Beyond 2023–24, the government should integrate cost recovery into tobacco tax policies through automatic adjustments, implement a uniform FED rate across all cigarette brands, and prescribe tax increases for the next three years.

Mumtaz Mughal, Director Programs, an anti-tobacco campaigner at Aurat Foundation, stated that the latest statistics reveal that in Pakistan, 31.9 million adults aged 15 years and older, or approximately 19.7% of the adult population, are current tobacco users. The use of tobacco leads to over 337,500 deaths annually in Pakistan, amounting to 1.4% of the nation’s GDP each year, she concluded, quoting a World Bank report.

Some women parliamentarians from all political parties also participated in the event.

MNA Zeb Jaffar voiced her full support for increasing taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products and offered all-out support for the rights of children in and out of parliament.

MNA Sahar Kamran said that she has been struggling for the rights of children ever since she was a member of the Senate of Pakistan and shall be pleased to keep her mission of child rights legislation in the parliament.

MNA Syeda Shehla Raza, the former provincial minister, supported the anti-tobacco campaign.

MNAs Naima Kanwal, Shazia Sobia, Naeema Kishwar Khan, Minority MNA from Thar Neelam Sahiba, Mehreen Razzaq Bhutto, and Mahjabeen Abbasi also spoke and expressed their support for the anti-tobacco campaign and child-friendly legislation in the parliament.

Syed Safdar Raza, an anti-tobacco campaigner at the Aurat Foundation, said that the suggested tax hike promises a clear ‘win-win’ situation for both health and revenue for the government and the people of Pakistan. New governments shouldn’t fall for the tricks of the tobacco industry. Civil society will support the government in debunking any myths propagated by the tobacco industry. Concerns about illicit trade have been countered by research showing that tobacco companies manipulate reported production to influence tax policies and evade taxes. Raza stressed that the government should adopt innovative ways of tax collection instead of burdening the poor.