Islamabad – May 17, 2023: Health activists urged the government to remain steadfast on its decision of increasing tobacco taxation in order to generate more revenue for the national exchequer. During an event organized by Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), health activists presented a Simulation Model on Tobacco Taxation which explained how increased tobacco taxation is a win-win situation for the government and people of Pakistan.
Malik Imran, Country Head, Campaign for tobacco-free kids (CTFK), mentioned that taxation is a key revenue source for any government and taxing non-essential items such as tobacco must be taxed to maximum in order to ensure fiscal imbalance, so the national exchequer does not suffer by it. He 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 our GDP which is a significant boost for a struggling economy like Pakistan.
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, Former Technical Head, Tobacco Control Cell, Ministry of Health, 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.