Chromatic Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Shariq Khan has criticised the federal government for not imposing tax on the tobacco industry in Pakistan in the recently presented mini budget despite promises and assurances for the last three years.
Talking exclusively with Tribune Wired he said, “It makes no sense that Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin is not imposing any tax on the tobacco industry. Just recently the PTI government presented the mini-budget, and you know prices of everything shoots up including the infant powdered milk. So, you can increase taxes on formula powdered milk but can’t tax cigarettes,” he lamented the incumbent government policies.
Shariq Khan told this scribe while quoting research reports that the tobacco use in Pakistan has become so lethal as everyday 1200 children (age between 12 to 15) start smoking which is a disastrous sign for country’s youth.
“But this is the figure, which was collected 20 years ago, and you can imagine the magnitude of youth daily adopting the heinous cigarette habit,” he elaborated.
“The actual share of the illicit trade of cigarettes in Pakistan is around 14 to 16 percent contrary to the claims of 40 percent illicit trade. It means the cigarettes are being imported and traded legally and they only submit tax from Rs100 billion to Rs150 billion. But the tobacco related health issues cause Rs615 billion to the country. You can easily understand the imbalance in what they are giving to the country and how much our country is paying,” he explained.
“In Pakistan, two international companies have 98 percent market share and local companies have remaining market share of cigarette selling,” he shared the statistics.
“Most of the people would not know that Behter Pakistan campaign was launched by the tobacco industry. Just to tell the fact that Rs150 million was only allocated for the media airing of Bahtar Pakistan campaign,” he added.
“In my point of view, the incumbent government should take immediate and concrete measures to thwart the influence of the tobacco lobby over the officials and taxes on the products should be increased phenomenally,” he added.
Shariq Khan said that the need of the hour was to understand the propaganda of tobacco industry to influence the government for their monetary gains by misleading the government into overestimating the share of the illicit market, to evade legitimate taxes.
Shariq Khan was of the view that PM Imran Khan has not been provided with the real data and research about the tobacco industry. He claimed that the tobacco industry ‘influence’ some people around the premier to make pro-industry policies.
He empathized that the prime and foremost solution to discourage cigarette habit among youth is to make it ‘unreachable’. “High cigarette prices and applying strict rules regarding its sale and display can help in discouraging use of tobacco in Pakistan,” he was of the view.
Chromatic CEO disclosed that tobacco industry was involved in establishing relationships with government officials to influence anti-tobacco policies.
Answering a question about tobacco industry production and manufacturing providing jobs to millions of people, Shariq responded, “Those who make cigarettes and sell it are enemies of the people and the country.”
“Only, tobacco is the only industry in the country which guarantees the tobacco leaves growers about 100 percent purchase,” he added.
He quoted Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan who was also the tobacco grower but later dropped its cultivation after the local mosque Imam apprised him about its negative points.
“You need to understand that there are some things which are above from money making goals. You can earn profit by growing tobacco but look at its negative points and causes,” he said.
Sharif Khan said that Chromatic has not been campaigning for the sudden and abrupt shutting down of the tobacco growing but for its gradual change.
He quoted a New Zealand example where people who were born after 2004 could not be able to buy cigarettes if the law passed by Kiwis parliament.
“When FBR Track and Trace system will apply to the tobacco industry the government will know the very next moment how much they are manufacturing and how much illicit trade is going on,” Shariq Khan said.
He revealed that since 2018, there have been no increase in taxes on tobacco industry and no increase in Pictorial Health Warning (PHW).
Pertinent to note that as a signatory to Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), Pakistan must fulfill its international commitments by taking demand and supply reduction measures to reduce cigarette consumption.
Shariq Khan said he needs government support to spread the anti-tobacco campaign and tobacco is one of the products which can be used for increasing the revenue by imposing taxes because an increase in its prices also safeguards the health of the citizens.
Passive smoking aka secondhand smoking is also an issue which needs proper awareness among people about its causes.
He said that the tobacco industry in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world targets customers aged 12 to 15 years old. He also tweeted, “This is how low the cigarette manufacturers used to go in order to target children! They still do but the method is more covert now. Mister Merry’s Play Lighter, Cigarettes and Bubble Gum.”
In December 2021, Chromatic had launched a website named—PakistanPact—a consolidated web portal for all anti-tobacco campaign related information and anti-tobacco activism in Pakistan. The platform is geared around more actionable information regarding tobacco control policies and the menace of smoking.
Talking about the platform PakistanPact, Shariq said, “Keeping in view of the increasing sale of tobacco and its effects on human health and social consequences, it was the need of the hour that an exclusive and consolidated portal must be launched that not only gives authentic tobacco information but also gives an insight of the issue through researches, studies and creative content that is stimulating for the audiences, enriching and enlightening for other activist working on tobacco control, and ultimately giving an opportunity for policymakers to delve into and improve policies and law for better future of the country.”
As per reports, tobacco kills over 163,600 people each year in Pakistan and around 31,000 of these deaths are due to exposure to secondhand smoke and tobacco caused about 16.0 percent of all male deaths and 4.9 percent of female deaths.