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Reduction in tobacco taxes to be a disaster: PIMA

Islamabad, 25 May 2017: Reacting to a statement made by the Special Assistant to the PM on Revenue, who has expressed that high taxes on cigarettes encourage smuggling which, in turn, costs billions to the exchequer, the president of Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA) Dr Abdul Malik suggested that if such a cause and effect relationship is logical, then the government should bring heroin, hashish and other menaces in the open market as a commercial commodity as well, and earn huge income through taxes.

“The government should be ashamed for increasing the prices of basic commodities like bread, fruits, milk, petrol, electricity, etc. and reducing the prices of dangerous items like tobacco,” the PIMA chief stated. He pointed out that Pakistan has one of the largest populations of tobacco users in the world, with over 22 million adults smoking cigarettes, ‘huqqa’ or ‘biri’ and millions more using smokeless tobacco products, including ‘gutka,’ ‘naswar,’ and ‘paan.’ Over 100,000 deaths are attributed to tobacco use each year from lung and oral cancers, strokes, heart and respiratory diseases.

Research has shown that increase in tobacco prices leads to a decrease in the number of smokers in a given community, one of the most effective of many strategies to curb tobacco use. “Here, our government is going to do exactly the opposite: make it easier to buy cigarette. While it may not matter for the richer strata of the society, even a small price increase matters a lot for the poor and lower middle class. It is this group unfortunately that is farthest away from any sort of health education, health care and economic benefits when it comes to illness that inevitably stems from tobacco use,” the PIMA president pointed out.

A research study on tobacco taxation in Pakistan, conducted jointly by FBR, World Bank, University of Toronto, Johns Hopkins University, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Beaconhouse National University, concluded that a uniform specific excise tax of Rs31.2 per pack of 20 cigarettes, could reduce overall cigarette consumption by 7.5 per cent, increase tax revenues by Rs27.2 billion, leading to over half a million users quitting and reducing premature deaths among current adult smokers by over 180,000, while also preventing 725,000 youth from taking up smoking.

Only a week ago, the Minister of State for Health Saira Afzal had recommended an increase in the Federal Excise Duty on lower slab of all brands of cigarettes from the current Rs32.98 to Rs44 per pack of 20 cigarettes.

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