World No Tobacco Day: Pakistan Faces the Growing Threat of Tobacco Use

As we commemorate World No Tobacco Day, it is crucial for Pakistan to address the escalating menace of tobacco consumption. The theme for this year, “Safeguarding children from the influence of the tobacco industry,” emphasizes the importance of protecting our young generation from the often covert strategies employed by the tobacco industry.

Globally, tobacco use among 13- to 15-year-olds has reached a staggering 37 million. The situation is particularly alarming in Pakistan, where tobacco consumption results in over 160,000 deaths each year. The rising trend of e-cigarette use among young people, fueled by companies exploiting child-friendly flavors and digital platforms to ensnare the next generation, further intensifies this crisis.

Despite these alarming statistics, tobacco companies continue to argue against taxation, asserting that it would encourage illicit trade. However, evidence suggests that taxes can effectively reduce tobacco consumption while simultaneously boosting government revenue.

As the budget announcement approaches, health experts in Pakistan have proposed a 26.6% increase in Federal Excise Duty (FED) on tobacco products. This measure aims to deter smoking, especially among young people and low-income groups. According to these experts, this strategy offers a “triple win”: it could reduce the number of smokers by 517,000, increase tax revenue by 12.1%, and recover 19.8% of healthcare costs associated with tobacco use. They have also advocated for the introduction of a single-tier taxation system to replace the current multi-tier one, which would streamline collection and combat industry manipulation.

In addition to these measures, it is vital to intensify efforts to curb cigarette smuggling, which results in the circulation of non-compliant cigarette packs without health warnings. While the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has made strides by seizing illegal cigarettes worth Rs96m, more comprehensive measures are needed. These include rigorous enforcement of anti-tobacco laws and the implementation of a track and trace system to ensure all cigarette packs bear legitimate tax stamps.

Elevating the tax on tobacco products is a well-established method to decrease smoking prevalence. By making cigarettes costlier, it discourages non-smokers from starting and motivates existing smokers to quit, thereby reducing overall tobacco consumption. Moreover, the additional revenue generated from these increased taxes can be directed towards public health initiatives, thereby enhancing their impact.

To effectively lower smoking rates and alleviate its health consequences in Pakistan, a comprehensive strategy is required. This encompasses the enforcement of strong tax policies, tackling illicit trade, and ensuring adherence to minimum legal pricing.

By rendering cigarettes less affordable for many, the government can safeguard public health, lessen the strain of tobacco-related diseases, and boost tax revenues for health programmes. This strategy will not only suppress smoking but also foster a healthier and more prosperous society.

Public awareness initiatives about the dangers of tobacco use also need to be enhanced. It is imperative for us to act decisively to protect future generations from the lethal clutches of tobacco, or we risk seeing their health deteriorate rapidly.

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