LAHORE: Despite the Ministry of National Health Services’ (NHS) announcement regarding the ambitious tobacco taxation reforms proposal for consideration in the upcoming budget, it has not taken any measures to implement the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
An NHS official told Profit that although the ministry had announced measures to curb tobacco consumption in the country, the slow implementation of FCTC gave clear room to tobacco players, mainly the multinational tobacco companies and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), to generate exorbitant profits.
Soon after coming into power in 2018, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government announced “sin tax” as a lethal tobacco control measure but the progress on that front has largely been disappointing.
The official said that the ministry has yet to enforce sin tax and increase pictorial warning on tobacco packs by up to 70 per cent. The plan for generating funds from increased taxes on tobacco products and ensuing spending on health infrastructure was still a paper plan and little had been done on grounds as the FBR and the ministry have each other’s backs, the official added.
The official further said that FBR did not pay attention to the ministry’s proposals because the latter did not pursue the case it built.
Sources said that instead of working on the implementation of the levy on tobacco products, the ministry itself lowered the pace, thus defying its commitments to FCTC.
In 2019, the NHS suggested enforcing health tax on tobacco products and in 2018, it asked the FBR to enhance levy on the same to spend the revenue on the health sector. Both suggestions hardly saw any progress by the FBR and the finance department.
In 2020, sources added, the ministry did not even push for increasing taxes on tobacco products.
When contacted, the NHS said that Special Assistant to Prime Minister on NHS Dr Zafar Mirza had said on May 31 that the ministry, in coordination with provinces, had developed a draft national policy to sustain tobacco control efforts in Pakistan, and would continue to promote a smoke-free society.