02 February, 2011

Increased Tobacco Tax will Save Lives, enhance Revenue

Published in Pakistan Observer (2 Feb. 2011)
Sana Jamal

ISLAMABAD: Tax increase on tobacco products is one of the most effective tobacco control measure that can save thousands of lives as well as increase the national revenue. This consensus emerged at a two-day workshop arranged by International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease in collaboration with Society for Alternative Media and Research (SAMAR) held at a local hotel in Islamabad.

Counseling services, high rate of taxation on sale of tobacco and complete ban on tobacco were few of the measures suggested on Tuesday, the concluding day of the two-day (31st Jan.-1st Feb.) workshop including health journalists and anti-tobacco campaigners.

Cigarettes are fairly inexpensive in Pakistan and the most popular brands cost PKR 18.40 per pack of 20 (USD 0.25 per pack) and this is the major reason that annual consumption of cigarettes has increased (from 292 cigarettes per capita in 1994 to 406 cigarettes per capita in 2007). This concern was raised by Dr. Ehsan Latif, Director Tobacco Control, International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, Edinburgh, Scotland who termed low-pricing of tobacco the main cause of high consumption in Pakistan.
In his presentation “Tobacco Taxation – A need for effective tobacco control”, Dr. Ehsan suggested that “increasing tax rates is the single most effective method of reducing demand for tobacco.”

Apart from cigarettes and cigars, tobacco in forms of beeri (hand rolled cigarettes), huqqa or sheesha (water-pipe) and naswar, qiwam (chewing tobacco) is common in Pakistan.

Anti-smoking law (Ordinance 2002) prohibits use of smoking and tobacco in any other form at public places and is punishable with a fine up to Rs. 1000 or subsequent offence may extend to even Rs100,000.

However the participants noted that non implementation of anti smoking law is encouraging extensive use of tobacco leading to the deaths of 274 people a day and causing at least 25% of deaths in Pakistan.

Khurram Hashmi, Coordinator of Coalition for Tobacco Control in Pakistan (CTC-Pak) sharing the findings of the research report conducted in 36 major cities of the country informed that in “72.1% of the vehicles, people including the driver and conductor were found using cigarettes. Sales to minors were taking place at 77% outlets and 66% of the educational institutions had cigarette sales outlet in close vicinity to their building.”

Towards the conclusion of the workshop, Mazhar Arif, Executive Director of SAMAR highlighted that the media should play its vital role to educate the people about the hazards of tobacco use. He also discussed action points with the journalists in order to engage the mainstream media in raising awareness on the tobacco related issues.