Tobacco Taxation and Control:
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognizes taxation as the most effective way to reduce the consumption of unhealthy products including sugar, tobacco and alcohol and to control the consequential Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) – a catch term for all the diseases including diabetes, heart diseases, cancer and chronic lung disease; which are responsible for 70% of deaths worldwide. The global health statistics have identified smoking as the precursor for these NCDs and estimates that $1.436 trillion are spent to deal with the Non-communicable diseases caused by smoking worldwide. It is a worrying revelation since 40% of the costs of smoking are shouldered by the developing countries and the share is predicted to grow unless the precautionary health measures are adopted.
WHO’s FCTC advocates for taxation which does not only discourage smoking leading to better health benefits, but also contributes to revenue generation for the health sector of a country. Though various developing countries, including Pakistan have been the early signatories of FCTC; the successful implementation of these taxation measures has proven to be a challenge for a middle-income or low-income country. The civil society of a country, however, can play a significant role in tobacco taxation and control, especially in the context of Pakistan.
The recent government has set out on the fresh reform and development agenda under which they have sworn to de-politicize bureaucracy and to empower the civil society of Pakistan. Following the authority promised under these progressive reforms, the civil society must pay close attention to taxation reform of the tobacco multinationals, which have manipulated the financial exchequer in the past and have paid the lowest taxes following the Finance Act of 2017-18.
A recent NAB inquiry has highlighted that although under this Finance Act, the taxes on tobacco have increased by 14%, the profit following the three-tier taxation system for the tobacco industry has increased by 218%. These figures reveal a lost potential to earn revenues and the possibility to avert the health crisis which may plague the nation in the years to come. The recent government however has revised an increase in the federal excise duty (FED) on tobacco and cigarettes. The duty influence of FED on price per 20 packs of cigarettes will be Rs. 12.5 for tier-1 bands and Rs. 11 for tier-3 bands. This measure is expected to raise an extra amount of Rs. 26 billion for the Finance ministry.
When it comes to tobacco control; the civil society of Pakistan suffers from the issues like the weak mechanism to ensure enforcement of tobacco related laws, the lobbying and in-turn the building pressure from the tobacco industry and the inability to create awareness in the rural areas about the harmful impacts of tobacco consumption. The civil society, through its advocacy, coalition building and evidence assimilation should try to compensate for these issue and thus should ensure that the present government does not bend under the pressure from the tobacco multinationals and is able to carry-out the above-mentioned tax reforms.
The civil society of Pakistan can advocate for the tobacco tax reforms by first educating the public about the harmful impact of tobacco consumption. This can be achieved through occasional public forums and civil society group debates. The favorable tax reforms by the government should be promoted and praised by the civil society.
Through smoke-free coalition and alliance building, the civil society should develop a pressure group of entrusted partners, who lobby against the unsolicited pressure from the tobacco multinationals on the government policies. As provider of evidence-based information, civil society must conduct research to inform tobacco related policy decisions. The civil society of Pakistan also needs to act as a watchdog by monitoring and reporting the progress of government and other institutions in meeting their commitments and achieving their tobacco control goals.
Here it must be understood that tobacco taxation and control is a long, excruciating process that requires a lot of patience. The government, the civil society and the public of Pakistan has to join hands to facilitate this process.