Health ministry pushes for tobacco, soda tax legislation

The federal health ministry has urged the federal finance ministry to clear the Federal Health Levy Bill so that it can be presented in the Parliament.

The bill seeks to impose a tax on tobacco and sugary drinks to boost revenue on one hand and to prevent the spread of non-communicable diseases caused by the consumption of such products.

In a letter to the federal finance ministry, Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Health Dr Faisal Sultan emphasized the need to charge Rs10 as health tax for every pack of 20 cigarettes on tobacco and Re1 for every 250 millilitres of carbonated drinks, as approved by the federal cabinet in June 2019.

Dr Sultan said that non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease are collectively responsible for almost 68% of all deaths in Pakistan.

As part of its targets set under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, he said that Pakistan is obligated to reduce premature mortality from these diseases, mainly caused by tobacco, by a third by 2030.

The government, the special assistant said, can achieve the goal if it lowers tobacco consumption amongst the youth by imposing a health tax.

The imposition of health tax on tobacco and sugary drinks as per the decision of the federal cabinet will prove as a catalyst to reduce the non-communicable diseases in the country, he said in the letter, adding that this would also help boost the tobacco revenues.

He pointed to the recent study by Tobacconomics, a collaboration of leading researchers who have been studying the economics of tobacco control policy for nearly 30 years, which showed that Pakistan scored 0.88 points out of 5 on the cigarette tax scorecard of 170 countries. This, Dr Sultan said, was the lowest score in the region.

According to the tobacco control cell at the health ministry, tobacco causes around 160,100 deaths every year in the country while almost 23.9 million adults currently use tobacco in any form.

The health ministry said that revenue generated by the health tax imposed on the tobacco and sugary drinks industries will in turn be used for the health sector’s development over and above its routine budgetary allocation.

The federal cabinet had decided to include provisions of the Federal Health Levy Bill – including measures to check illegal manufacturing and illicit trade of cigarettes and tobacco – in the Finance Bill 2019, but it was excluded at the last minute due to unidentified reasons.

Dr Sultan has now recommended that the finance ministry again take immediate measures to lay the Federal Health Levy Bill before the Parliament to get it passed.

(This story has been published from The Express Tribune feed, without modifications to the text)