The government has done the needful. In announcing a sin tax for cigarettes and sugary drinks, the country will not only be adhering to international norms. It will have the chance to boost the health budgets across the board; by a reported 5 percent. This is absolutely imperative given that public expenditure on development has been slashed under this political set-up as it grapples to contain the balance of payment deficits. Currently, just 0.6 percent of GDP is spent on health. Pakistan, of course was one of the original signatories to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) back in 2005. This requires parties to ensure smoking-free environments when it comes to all workplaces and public transport; a ban on tobacco advertising across the print and digital divide; issuing all cigarette packets with clear written and pictorial health warnings; and slashing demand by introducing a tobacco tax. Indeed, the FCTC is, in its own words: a supranational agreement that seeks “to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke”. Thus financial considerations aside, the move must be welcomed from a purely health-focused standpoint. According to the Health ministry, the country is home to some 1,500 new young smokers every day. In fact, it names tobacco as the largest single cause of preventable illness and death: directly contributing to some108,800 fatalities every year (298 per day). Indeed, in countries like Britain, popular opinion remains divided as to whether the government-funded National Health Service (NHS) should be allowed to provide free healthcare and treatment from those suffering from tobacco-related complications.The problem here is exacerbated when vendors fail to enforce the minimum age rule. It is illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18 years in Pakistan. And then there is the ease with individual cigarettes may be bought. That being said, schools must also reinforce the message that smoking is hazardous to health. When it comes to those parents who have not passed through the education system — children can proudly share information on this subject. For unless the tobacco tax is carried out in conjunction with a health campaign to target everyone, it will be seen as nothing more than a tax on the poor. Trickier will be any campaign against sugary drinks. For these are everywhere and also feature as part of the hugely popular kids’ meals sold by certain fast-food franchises. Thus steps need to be taken to limit advertising in any shape or form; extending to all mediums of media. Linked to this should be the introduction of the watershed concept. Meaning that there must be a bar on fizzy drink ads until most children are asleep. Again, the government will have to impress upon the citizenry the dangers of consuming too much pop; such as contributing to diabetes and obesity. In fact, Britain now ranks the latter as the biggest cause of cancer after smoking.The bottom line is that imposing a tax of Rs5 to Rs15 on tobacco will only work if carried out alongside renewed health campaigns. Failure on this front will simply look a lot like encouraging those who can afford to buy cigarettes to continue doing so. And that is not what anyone wants. * Published in Daily Times, December 6th 2018.