ISLAMABAD: Around 1,200 Pakistani children between the ages of six-15 pick up a cigarette to smoke every day, according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) results of 2015. Pakistan’s population consists of 60 percent people below the age of 25 where alarming statistics of young people getting addicted and at risk of tobacco consumption calls for strict and effective tax reforms. A worrisome aspect is the healthcare burden which is Rs 143 billion as compared to revenue generation, which stands at Rs 83 billion currently leading to a loss to the federal exchequer.This demand was raised by representatives of the Society for the Protection of Rights of the Child (SPARC) at the National Press Club on Tuesday. While addressing media representatives, SPARC Executive Director Sajjad Cheema suggested the government to implement the sin tax on tobacco products, which is an instrument of excise tax, specifically levied on certain goods which are deemed injurious to the society. SPARC further demanded that the retail price of a pack of cigarette should not be less than Rs 100 in order to discourage minors from easy access to tobacco. Although the Federal Excise Duty on tobacco has been increased from Rs 16 to Rs 25, yet it has not yielded substantive tax collection.Giving her views, SPARC Development Programme Manager Asiya said it is pertinent to mention that Pakistan is a signatory to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) since 2005, under which it took a pledge to ensure smoke-free public places, reduce tobacco advertising and promotion and to raise tobacco taxation and pricing. Health targets under Sustainable Development Goals also call upon the states to ensure compliance with FCTC, she added. Sajjad Cheema quoted the Prohibition of Smoking & Protection of Non-Smokers Health Ordinance, 2002 which includes measures to stop people from smoking in public, ban on access to tobacco products near educational institutes and restriction on sale of cigarettes to those who are under 18. But, he added, it has been reported that no complaint has been registered against the violators under this law. The complaint lodging mechanism should not be complicated for a common man.“There’s also a need to initiate a drive regarding educating people about the reporting procedure and its aftermath. In this regard in 2017, Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination directed to enforce tobacco control laws by nominating focal persons from respective ministries,” he said.It has been observed that a majority of smokers start smoking in their adolescent age therefore it is more important to curb tobacco consumption among teens, he said. One of the reasons behind this can be social acceptance and negligence on behalf of the parents and concerned authorities. In 2010, Statutory Regulatory Order was seen as a major stride forward in dissuading youth from tobacco use.He further shared that SPARC’s ongoing work with vulnerable children is suggestive of the fact that tobacco products are easily accessible to minors including school going children and dropouts. He demanded the government to bring effective tax reforms for preventing easy access of cigarettes to the youth.SPARC appreciated Ministry of Health and Tobacco Control Cell’s efforts towards monitoring and curbing tobacco use among public especially children. And also the measures they took for harmonizing and bringing various stakeholders including Federal Board of Revenue on board.The provincial governments should also take steps in compliance with the aforementioned tobacco control laws.Published in Daily Times, October 17th 2018.