Islamabad: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called upon the government of Pakistan to simplify tobacco taxation through a uniform tax structure; increase tobacco taxation to 70% of the retail price; and immediately withdraw the third tier of taxation introduced by the previous government.
In a statement issued here on Monday, the Acting WHO Representative Dr. Abid Saeed Nima said, “We have pinned great hopes on Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is a sportsman and a champion. It is encouraging to note that the new PM has placed health very high on his agenda. We now expect him to take strict measures to curb tobacco use in a bid to save the lives of the people of Pakistan.”
Dr. Nima said, Pakistan faces the double burden of Communicable and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). Tobacco use is the single most important risk factor for onslaught of NCDs including several types of cancers, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, and chronic respiratory diseases. “Today, NCDs cause 57 % of mortality in Pakistan,” he added. Dr. Nima said, now when the government is set to introduce a revised budget, it would be nice to see the tobacco taxation structure being revised to make tobacco unaffordable, not merely through price increase but also through an increase in taxes.
Talking to ‘The News,’ the tobacco control focal person informed that as per new estimates, tobacco kills over 200,000 people in Pakistan every year; and the sufferings stand multiplied with associated economic and social costs.
“Cigarettes in Pakistan are almost the cheapest in the world, and on top of that, the most sold cigarette brands are placed under the third tier to pay low taxes. Practically, there are almost no brands in the second tier. As a result, the prices of the most sold brands have decreased from about Rs74 to Rs48 per pack, while the excise duty per pack (most sold brands) has fallen from Rs32 to Rs16 per pack during the previous regime,” the focal person remarked.
Shahzad Alam Khan, WHO’s National Professional for NCDs and Tobacco Control, said that Prime Minister Imran Khan is the recipient of WHO’s World No Tobacco Day Award for the year 2002. “We hope he will take strict measures for tobacco control, particularly implementation of WHO MPOWER measures with a focus on increased tobacco taxation, large-sized graphic health warning on tobacco packs, and bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.”
The prevalence of tobacco product use in Pakistan is very high (19.1%), particularly among men (31.8%) and women (5.8%). Moreover, 70% people in Pakistan fall prey to secondhand smoke at indoor workplaces which is equally damaging.
Among youth (13-15 years of age), 10.7% of the school students (13.3% boys and 6.6% girls) currently use tobacco. Overall, 21.0% of the students were exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes and 37.8% were exposed to smoke inside any enclosed public places, while 30.0% were exposed to tobacco smoke at any outdoor public place. Overall, 12.6% of the students ever smoked shisha and this percentage was highest (19.1%) in Balochistan.
Pakistan has signed and ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and while some steps have been taken to control tobacco use, the country still has a long way to go. Stricter implementation of existing laws on tobacco control, a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and increase in tobacco taxation have the potential for visible impact.
(This news/article originally appeared in The News on September 18th, 2018)