Raising cigarette taxes: a vital step for public health and economy

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Islamabad: Health advocates stress the critical need for raising tobacco taxes, specifically targeting cigarettes, in order to curb smoking, finance vital public services such as healthcare and strengthen the economy.
Malik Imran Ahmed, the Country Head of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), said that the policymakers can effectively curtail tobacco consumption by annual increments in cigarette taxes and making them less affordable over time.
He emphasized the pivotal role of high cigarette taxes to deter smoking, particularly among the youth and individuals with lower incomes.
Ahmed also shed light on the staggering economic toll of smoking in Pakistan, which amounts to Rs 615.07 billion (US$3.85 billion), equivalent to 1.6% of the country’s GDP. The economic cost of smoking surpasses the revenues generated by the tobacco industry, he added.
He referred to data from an international survey revealing that the aggregate annual economic costs attributable to smoking-related diseases and deaths, along with those associated with the three primary non-communicable diseases, collectively amount to 1.6% and 1.15% of Pakistan’s GDP, respectively.
This concerning pattern highlights the immediate requirement to implement yearly increments in cigarette taxes. This step is crucial to alleviate the pressure on Pakistan’s GDP, demanding swift action from the government.
Dr. Khalil Ahmad, Program Manager at SPARC, elaborated on the multifaceted impacts of high cigarette taxes.
He emphasized the urgent need for proactive measures to mitigate the challenges concerning tobacco-related health issues on children and marginalized communities.
He said that the government can effectively curb smoking rates among youth, thereby safeguarding their health and well-being. Furthermore, he highlighted that the financial burden imposed by tobacco-related illnesses disproportionately affects marginalized communities, exacerbating existing disparities in access to healthcare and socioeconomic opportunities.
Dr. Ahmad reiterated that the incremental taxation of cigarettes is not merely a fiscal policy but a moral imperative. He said that the revenue generated from increased cigarette taxes can be allocated towards bolstering healthcare infrastructure, funding public health initiatives, and implementing comprehensive tobacco control programs aimed at preventing tobacco use initiation and supporting smoking cessation efforts.