Experts call for further curbs on tobacco industry

ISLAMABAD: The government should continue its tobacco taxation policy and enhance federal excise duty (FED) on cigarettes, as approximately 16pc of cigarettes smoked in Pakistan are illicit and big tobacco companies are allegedly involved in the promotion of such malpractices.

These revelations were made during an online dialogue on ‘Illicit trade of tobacco in Pakistan and who is responsible’, organised by the Society for Protection of Rights of the Child (SPARC) on Wednesday.

Speaking on the occasion, Pakistan National Heart Association General Secretary Sanaullah Ghuman alleged that multinational tobacco companies are involved in the illegal trade of the cigarettes. He maintained that the tobacco industry is again spreading false figures about illicit trade of cigarettes only to get concessions from the government.

“The tobacco industry is used to launching such propganda campaigns near the announcement of annual budget.”

Citing an SPDC report, he informed that multinational companies underreport their production and then sell their non-reported products in the illicit cigarette market, causing billion of rupees losses to the state.

Dr Ziauddin, Technical Head of Tobacco Control Cell and co-investigator of study, said, “According to a survey, more than 6,000 smokers were asked about their desire to quit smoking and their view on tobacco control measures. On average, one smoker spends almost Rs2,000 per month on cigarettes and smokes about 13 cigarettes a day. A two-third of smokers want to stop smoking, but had failed ostensibly due to the absence of any proper counselling or required medication.”

Sharing details of the Studying Tobacco Users of Pakistan (STOP) survey, Dr Ziauddin said that the survey was conducted in 10 most populous cities of Pakistan and the survey team had examined more than 8,000 cigarette packs to check how many packs were illegal or smuggled; approximately 16pc of cigarette packs were found to be illegal. However, this estimate is much lower than the claims made by the tobacco industry, he added.

SPARC Executive Director Sajjad Ahmed Cheema said that the government should continue its tobacco taxation policy and it must enhance FED on cigarettes to discourage smoking and to increase government revenue in upcoming budget 2020-2021.

It is pertinent to mention that the STOP survey was approved by the Pakistan Health Research Council and executed in collaboration with Tobacco Control Cell of the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination. The study findings are timely as the new budget will be announced soon.

Ahmad Ahmadani
The author is an investigative journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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