Hamid Ali was shocked when he found out that his 15-year-old son Ahsan spends PKR 5,000 every month on cigarettes. The money that he gives his son as his monthly pocket money goes up in smoke, literally. “This is the average budget for my driver’s monthly food expenditure that he spends, and my son is burning my hard-earned money on this leisure without realizing how difficult it is to earn and survive these days.” Ahsan is one of the 2,000 children who become active smokers every month in Pakistan, spending thousands on leisure that can ultimately lead to life-threatening diseases. These numbers are alarming, especially in a country where inflation is set to hit 50 percent – the highest in South Asia. Cigarettes are cheaper than necessities such as wheat in Pakistan. A 5 kg bag of atta, which barely lasts two weeks in a family of three, is more expensive than an average box of cigarettes. The high cost of living in Pakistan is evident in statistics. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased by 11.1% in April 2021 compared to the same month in the previous year. The CPI for food and non-alcoholic beverages increased by 14.6% during the same period. This means that the average Pakistani household is spending a significant portion of their income on basic needs such as food and beverages. Several factors have contributed to the rising cost of basic needs in Pakistan. One of the main factors is inflation, which has led to an increase in the cost of goods and services. Additionally, the shortage of supply has led to an increase in demand and prices. The government’s policies, such as taxes and tariffs, also play a role in the rising cost of basic needs. These factors combined have made it difficult for the average Pakistani to afford necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter. On the other hand, tobacco products are not as expensive in Pakistan as they should be. Although the government imposes taxes on tobacco products, these taxes are not enough to reflect the true cost of smoking. Smoking has a significant impact on the health of individuals, and the costs associated with treating smoking-related illnesses are substantial. In addition to the health costs, smoking also hurts the economy, as it reduces productivity and increases healthcare costs. Moreover, the tobacco industry in Pakistan is a powerful lobby, with significant political influence. This has allowed them to push back against attempts to raise taxes on tobacco products or to implement other measures aimed at reducing smoking rates in the country. Pakistan must address both the high cost of basic needs and the low cost of tobacco products. The government should work towards implementing policies that address inflation and increase the supply of basic needs. Additionally, they should increase taxes on tobacco products to reflect the true cost of smoking and discourage people from taking up the habit. The government should also work to reduce the influence of the tobacco industry on policy-making and prioritize the health and well-being of Pakistani citizens. In conclusion, the cost of living in Pakistan is high, and the situation is further exacerbated by the low cost of tobacco products. The government needs to take urgent action to address these issues and improve the standard of living for its citizens. Investing in policies that address inflation and increase the supply of basic needs will help alleviate the burden on the average Pakistani household. Similarly, increasing taxes on tobacco products will help reduce smoking rates and the associated health and economic costs. It is time for Pakistan to prioritize the well-being of its citizens and create a more sustainable and equitable society. The writer is a freelance columnist.