ISLAMABAD:(Raja Furqan Ahmed) Health and tobacco control activists have been pleading the government of Pakistan to take notice of the delay in implementation of Health Levy bill on cigarettes and sugary drinks. This bill was approved by Cabinet in 2019 and forwarded to relevant departments for quick implementation. However, it still stays pending.
Addressing a press conference at National Press Club Islamabad, Human Development Foundation (HDF), Society for the Protection of the Rights of Child (SPARC) and Pakistan National Heart Association (PANAH) asked the government to recall about the Health Levy Bill, passed by the cabinet in 2019 and is yet not implemented.
Syed Anis Bilal, Project Lead, HDF stated that FBR is responsible for delay in the implementation of the health levy bill. Currently, the economic situation in Pakistan is unstable and the government is in need of revenues which can be utilized for financing government scheme like Universal Health Coverage. Noncompliance in implementation of health levy bill has already cost the government a total of Rs. 55 billion in revenues last year. Revenue generated from the health levy bill can be utilized for pandemic control and guarantee better health for our people.
Sanaullah Ghumman, General secretary, PANAH shared that in their pursuit on the current status of Health Levy bill, they found that the bill has been going back and forth between FBR, Health Ministry and Finance Ministry. He mentioned that FBR shared in writing that it does not have any issues with the implementation of a health levy bill. The Federal Ministry of Finance has given a written assurance to the Federal Ombudsman for taking necessary steps for the implementation of the Health Levy Bill. The hearing was held in Federal Ombudsman on the petition filed by PANAH in the presence of Senior Health Adviser of the Federal Ombudsman regarding health levy bill. A member of the Finance Ministry informed the Federal Ombudsman in writing that public health is one of the main priorities of the government; therefore, it was assured that necessary steps will be taken as soon as possible to implement the health levy bill.
Khalil Ahmed, Programme Manager, SPARC said that Pakistan’s economy is unfortunately unstable, the idea of a health levy was to increase the prices of sugary drinks and tobacco products, so that they are out of reach of children, and it would generate revenues as well. He further added that the Covid-19 pandemic made everyone realize that our existing resources are insufficient for any health emergency.
Talking on this issue, Malik Imran, Country Representative, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said that health levy was only a measure to mitigate the health burden caused by non-essential products such as sugary drinks and tobacco products. He further stated that FBR has failed to implement the Health Levy bill which has cost the national exchequer a hefty amount. This new stream of revenues will help the government for sustaining its health program initiatives. Tobacco control activists anticipate that the government will take instant notice of the delay in implementation of the health levy without being ill-advised by the FBR and take necessary steps to safeguard the health of millions in Pakistan. Along with it, an investigation to determine why the decision of the federal cabinet to impose a health levy on tobacco could not be implemented was also made.