Hike in Tobacco Taxes for FY-2024-25 demanded to save lives, strengthen economy

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Hike in Tobacco Taxes for FY-2024-25 demanded to save lives, strengthen economy

ISLAMABAD, May 26 (DNA): Speakers of the police dialogue on tobacco taxation to highlight the contribution of the tobacco industry to Pakistan’s economy and the health cost burden due to tobacco use organized by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) have called for immediate increase in tobacco taxation for the fiscal year 2024-25 terming it in larger interest of country and its people.

Speaking on the occasion, former caretaker information minister Murtaza Solangi said that low cigarettes prices were the reason why children and youth initiate smoking. He said that smoking-related illnesses and deaths incur substantial economic costs in Pakistan’s GDP every year. These increasing health cost burdens encompass healthcare expenses, productivity losses due to illness and premature death, as well as other indirect economic impacts, he added.

Solangi further stated 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 young people safe from the harms of tobacco use.

Country head Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK), Malik Imran Ahmed shared in detail that the recent Federal Excise Duty (FED) reforms on tobacco have demonstrated promising results in terms of revenue generation. Collections from July 2023 to January 2024 have already surpassed PKR 122 billion, with projections for the full year exceeding PKR 200 billion, marking a substantial increase compared to previous fiscal years.

Furthermore, these reforms are expected to generate an additional PKR 60 billion in General Sales Tax (GST) on cigarettes for the fiscal year 2023-24. The combined impact of FED and GST is estimated to be around PKR 88 billion, indicating a remarkable relative growth of nearly 49% compared to the previous year.

Imran added that in addition to the financial benefits, these reforms play a crucial role in promoting public health by reducing tobacco consumption and potentially recovering 17.8% of the total healthcare costs associated with smoking in Pakistan. However, maintaining the current rate could result in a decrease in health cost recovery, highlighting the urgent need for further action.

To achieve similar levels of health cost recovery observed in 2023-24, a 37% increase in the FED rate for the upcoming year is recommended. This tax proposal presents a clear ‘win-win’ scenario, benefiting both the government and the people of Pakistan by enhancing revenue and safeguarding public health.

Dean Allied Healthcare Sciences, Lung Diseases and Tobacco Control, Health Services Academy, Prof. Dr. Matiur Rehman said that tobacco-related illnesses also known as non-communicable diseases 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 long-term impacts on families, communities and the healthcare system, he noted.

Program Manager of SPARC, Dr. Khalil Ahmad Dogar said that the children of Pakistan were being targeted by the tobacco industry so that “replacement smokers” could be recruited. Around 1200 Pakistani children between the ages of 6–15 years start smoking every day. Khalil added that all stakeholders must cast their differences aside and unite to protect our children and youth from an industry which was causing billions of loss to the national exchequer. Increasing tobacco taxes was such a step which should be regularly implemented, he maintained.