Islamabad-Federal Minister for National Health Services Aamer Mehmood Kiani said on Friday that coordination would be made with the ministry of finance to raise taxes on cigarettes because tobacco use is a major cause of death in the country. The Project Manager briefed the minister on tobacco control situation in Pakistan. Before the 2018 budget, Ministry of NHS following the studies of tobacco cell had written a letter to the Ministry of Finance and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to impose a heavy tax on tobacco industry to generate revenue and specifically to eliminate the third slab of cigarettes.  However, both the proposals were not considered by the then government which was successful in damaging the health ministry’s efforts to control tobacco consumption in the country.

The minister was informed that almost 24 million adults currently use tobacco in various forms in Pakistan. Tobacco Control Cell (TCC) had taken measures to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use in the country, in accordance with its mandate. In this regard, TCC notified new enhanced pictorial health warning on cigarette packs, banned sale of loose cigarettes, banned import of tobacco and non-tobacco sheesha and related substances, banned tobacco advertisement in print, electronic and outdoor media, banned cigarette packs having less than 20 cigarettes, illegalized designated smoking areas / smoking rooms, declared public places 100% smoke-free, raised awareness among masses, and built capacity of authorized persons to support enforcement. The Technical Head TCC highlighted that there were challenges in functioning of tobacco control in Pakistan especially the availability of low-priced cigarettes.

He informed that TCC had already solicited support of PEMRA for airing tobacco control messages as a public service message. He also presented the way forward and cited future plans. He suggested ensuring implementation of legislation on pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs. He further proposed to implement Tobacco Venda Act, 1958 to regulate the sale of tobacco products. Aamir Mehmood Kiyani said that tobacco use is a major cause of death in Pakistan and this ministry will take every measure to save lives of people of Pakistan from these deadly products. He said coordination would be made with Ministry of Finance to raise taxes on cigarettes. He further said that Provincial Chief Ministers would be requested to ensure enforcement of tobacco control laws in particular enforcement of legislation on pictorial health warning on cigarette packs.  He also directed to launch awareness campaign on hazards of smoking and for promoting tobacco cessation and quitting services. He emphasized on conducting a comprehensive survey to collect data on health indicators including tobacco.

The minister assured that every possible measure would be taken to reduce prevalence of tobacco use in the country and save lives of people of Pakistan. In June, World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) met at UN to eliminate the illicit tobacco trade from the world.  Pakistan though initially remained unsuccessful in securing a position in the first 40 countries of the treaty which would be able to influence the decision making body to control the illicit tobacco trade.

However, later the caretaking government decided to ratify the protocol of eliminating the illicit trade as 41st member of the body. The previous Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had also urged Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to rationalize the tax structure on cigarette prices, stressed on formulation of a national policy to curb the use of tobacco and protect the health of citizens. The special audit held by Auditor General Pakistan (AGP) on the direction of previous PAC had mentioned that illicit cigarette trade had caused Rs50billion loss to the national exchequer.  The audit report also said that introduction of 3-tier policy resulted in increase of tobacco consumption in the country, while illicit trade surged to 25percent.