An online debate on the impacts of sugary drinks and tobacco usage suggested on Wednesday that the government can generate additional Rs 50 billion revenue if it implements federal cabinet’s decision on imposition of surcharge on sugary drinks and tobacco products, and the money can be used to support health infrastructure to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. The virtual debate, organized by the Society for Protection of Rights of Child on ‘Imposition of surcharge on tobacco products for supporting health infrastructure to fight Covid-19 pandemic’, involved local anti-tobacco advocates, doctors and civil society activists. Irfan Ahmed, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids-Pakistan chief, drew the attention of Prime Minister Imran Khan towards a decision approved by the federal cabinet to implement a surcharge of Rs 10 on tobacco products and Re 1 on sugary drinks which remained pending till date. He said the country is facing a severe shortage of funds to combat the coronavirus pandemic. He suggested the government to impose surcharge on tobacco products and sugary drinks that can generate a huge amount of Rs 50 billion. He added the generated funds can be used to buy personal protective equipment for health workers and testing kits required for the pandemic.SPARC Chief Executive Sajjad Ahmed Cheema said the surcharge approved by the cabinet was not presented in the financial bill 2019-20 and therefore could not be implemented. He added if the surcharge is imposed on cigarettes, the government will generate about Rs 40 billion per year in addition to the existing tax revenues and same is the case with sugary drinks. Pakistan National Heart Association’s Sanaullah Ghumman said the government needs to adopt a futuristic approach and channelise the additional revenues into situations where financial setbacks are faced, such as the current pandemic of coronavirus. He urged the government to consider implementing the cabinet’s decision on surcharge.Dr Ziauddin, technical head of Tobacco Control Cell, said both cigarettes and carbonated drinks have poor nutritious value and the sales trends show growing habit of smoking among youngsters and high consumption of soft drinks. “Not only higher prices discourage youth from initiating cigarette smoking but encourage current smokers to quit, who are nowadays at a higher risk to coronavirus due to their decreased immunity,” he said, adding that efficient imposition of taxes on these products can decrease people’s access as their consumption is injurious to health and is increasing health burden of the country.