Smoking causes deaths in a huge number annually in Pakistan and increases the financial and health burdens of the users, said Azhar Saleem, CEO of Human Development Foundation (HDF).
Study reveals smoking causes deaths in Pakistan. Azhar said attempts are being made in the run-up to budget to influence policymakers not to put higher taxes on the smoking industry.
He said the excuse for avoiding higher taxes is the alleged illicit trade of cigarettes. In an online press briefing session, he said the pre-budget time is crucial for policymakers and tobacco control activists for increasing the taxes on tobacco products.
It has been reported that tax officers have recently found from an abandoned factory about 60 million sticks of illegally manufactured cigarettes.
However, it is claimed that the illicit trade of cigarettes is causing Rs44 billion losses to the national exchequer. Cigarette producers have sponsored a study, which claims 44% of tobacco trade is illegal. In 2017-18, through a new tax structure, a loss of Rs42 billion was caused to the government due to the relaxing taxing of the tobacco sector.
Malik Imran, representative of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), stated that last year, two research studies were jointly conducted by HDF, Pakistan National Heart Association (PANAH), and Fikr-e-Fardan Organization (HDF).
In another study conducted by the Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC), it was found that the industry under-reports its total production and evades taxes as a result. Undocumented cigarettes are being sold by the industry in the black market, with the intention to increase illicit trade.
These studies and investigations necessitate the implementation of a transparent and fair Track and Trace system which will help in reducing the illicit trade of cigarettes. Through this under-reporting, the industry caused a loss of Rs. 37 billion in 2016-17 in government revenues.
Azhar Saleem also stated that the tobacco industry is causing an economic burden of Rs192 billion per year. He urged the government to increase taxes on tobacco products as higher taxes will lead to more revenues and limit the access of youth to this deadly product.