Weaning off tobacco

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To tackle the growing trend of tobacco use, the federal government has taken a step in the right direction to increase taxes on tobacco products and discourage people from smoking or using other tobacco products. No doubt, the strategy has paid off in other countries and Pakistan can learn from their experiences to wean off the young generation from tobacco use, reduce burden on the country’s healthcare system and support the ailing economy.
Like many other countries, Pakistan has been facing a rising challenge of tobacco consumption for many years. It is estimated that about 24 million adults in Pakistan use tobacco in some form or another, which is a significant proportion of the population. This problem has led to numerous health issues, including cancer, heart disease, and respiratory problems, and has put an enormous strain on the country’s healthcare system.
As the cash strapped economy desperately needs revenue, the time is ripe for a heavy tax to be slapped on consumer items, such as tobacco, which are harmful for human health.
Several reasons exist why increasing taxes on tobacco products is an effective strategy. Firstly, higher prices make tobacco products less affordable, particularly for the young people. Secondly, higher taxes on tobacco can reduce its use, particularly among low-income households, and generate revenue for the government to fund public health programs.
During a recent event held in Islamabad under the banner of Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), which has been reported on these pages, speakers have stated 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 Rs 615 billion which is 1.6% of Pakistan’s GDP.
Dr. Ziauddin Islam, Former Technical Head, Tobacco Control Cell, Ministry of Health, has mentioned that increased prices remain the most effective tool in keeping these killer products away from spending power of children and low-incomed groups.
However, there are some challenges associated with this policy, as it can create a black market for tobacco products. Moreover, it may be politically difficult to increase taxes on tobacco products as the tobacco industry is a significant tax payer. The industry claims to be the major tax payers but the revenue generated from the tobacco industry is estimated to be only Rs 120 billion.
Despite these challenges, increasing taxes on tobacco products is a necessary step in addressing the menace of tobacco use in Pakistan. The government should consider a multi-faceted approach that includes public education campaigns, strict enforcement of tobacco control laws and support for tobacco cessation programs. This approach will not only improve public health but will also generate revenue that can be used to fund other essential public services.
However, it is essential to implement this policy carefully to avoid unintended consequences. By taking a multi-faceted approach, Pakistan can reduce tobacco use and improve public health, which will have significant benefits for the country’s economic and social development.