Donating death – an open letter to the Prime Minister of Pakistan
Thank you for your leadership in these trying times. Thank you for your efforts to make Naya Pakistan and taking the country to the next level in the comity of nations. Your efforts to make the governance inclusive and participatory are certainly laudable. This provides a chance for the common citizen to directly convey the feelings and reservations to your office, with an assurance of being heard. I also understand your time is of great value, so I will come directly to the point of concern.
In one of the most shameful acts to lobby and gain influence, representative from British Tobacco Company held a meeting with you and donated a check worth Rs. 5 Million. The ordeal merits your serious attention. As you are aware that British Tobacco houses one of the many tainted legacies of British Raj in the region. For over a century they have been profiting by selling its products indiscriminately and regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity or religion, which, as per its own standards is a reprehensible achievement.
Fortunately, the history of Tobacco Control Laws in Pakistan dates back to 1950s when the Tobacco Vent Act was first enacted. Multiple legislations have been promulgated thereafter, to ensure containment of spreading tobacco usage in Pakistan. One of the mile stone legislations was passed in 1979, which obligated Tobacco Industry to place Warning on the pack of cigarettes. Yet another comprehensive set of laws, Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-smokers Health Ordinance was passed in 2002. Soon after, Pakistan became signatory to the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2004. This international treaty obligates Pakistan to certain clauses that the government and its officials must abide by, to maintain a responsible and good standing. Unfortunately, by accepting the check for the Dam project, as the head of the government, you and the British Tobacco representative, both have violated the article 5 (3) of the FCTC. You, being the head of the government are in direct violation of the treaty and the tobacco industry (being from UK) is indirectly involved in manoeuvring their way to influence the government. But the important questions to ask here (intentionally ignoring the ‘how’ questions) are why tobacco industry is donating this money for a ‘noble and close to heart’ cause and why now?
This industry is capable of selling death, cancer and other Non-Communicable diseases by vending over 85 Billion sticks annually in Pakistan
Dear Prime Minister, you have a long history and experience in collecting funding for a decent cause like Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital. It would be appropriate to reveal any funding in Caner Hospital project given to you by this industry, especially when you were not in office or not even in politics. I am sure you understand that the road to hell was also paved with good intentions, so is this donation.
Domestically, Mr. Prime Minister, accepting this check has very interesting statistics attached to it. Thanks to the same industry, we have 24 million active tobacco users in Pakistan. Daily 1200 Pakistani kids start smoking, I hope and pray one of these kids in not yours – ironically, being the Prime Minister, all of them are in fact your kids. Annually 160,100 Pakistanis die of tobacco related diseases. Directly related to your noble cause of cancer hospital, Pakistan Medical Association reported almost 6 years ago that 1.5 million Pakistanis were found to have contracted cancer through the strenuous efforts of the tobacco industry, the same industry that donated you that valuable check sire!
I will not go into the details and politics of Tobacco industry influencing government officials in Low and Middle Income countries such as Pakistan. However, popular media and newspaper reports are testimonies loud enough to merit your kind attention. By influencing the governmental policies, the same industry happily fooled the entire nation and cheated the country through additional tax tier. Consequently, a loss of almost Rs. 30 Billion in revenues was brought on national exchequer in 2017 alone, by the same very industry which has very kindly donated Rs 5 Million for the Dam. Simultaneously, during 2017-18 the profit for Philip Morris (manufacturers of Marlboro) sky rocketed by 160% and British Tobacco profits increased by 105%.
This industry is capable of selling death, cancer and other Non-Communicable diseases by vending over 85 Billion sticks annually in Pakistan. If they were allowed to sell this number of cigarettes in the West or for example Australia (where the cost of one pack of cigarettes is likely to reach $ 45 by 2020), their profit would be much more – they don’t, my question is why not? Fortunately, those countries have better laws and better informed policies to control the spread of this menace and foster its sales for ‘others’.
To conclude, Mr. Prime Minister, I would only humbly suggest you to reconsider acceptance of this ‘death donation’ and think of better policy measures which could earn billions in shape of well-deserved tax for the nation. The next budget is just around the corner, as the tobacco industry wants you to ‘remember’ them in your taxation policy decisions, I would request you to remember those 24 million kids, adult males and females, and cancer patients who contracted this disease and now they cannot get rid of.
Very Warm Regards
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.