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Muhammad Zahir

The Punch

Published Date: Mar 9, 2019

Tobacco products take 160,100 lives every year in Pakistan

Islamabad (TP) March 8: Speakers have said that in Pakistan, existing tobacco control laws and subordinate legislation in the form multiple Statutory Regulatory Orders (SROs) only targeting smoking ad ban, restricting smoking spaces, taxation and pricing control and Graphic Health Warning (GHW), but do not address the multi-sector challenges of society, economy and industry.
They said that there was a dire need of a comprehensive and multi-sectoral tobacco control policy and strategies which could address the challenges faced by the society, economy and industries. Also, he said, the policy framework and strategies should be in line with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), of which Pakistan is signatory since 2004.
They were speaking at a roundtable meeting titled “Understanding Tobacco Control Regulations in Pakistan”, organized by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here in Islamabad on Friday.
SDPI Senior Research Associate Waseem Iftekhar Janjua said that according to World Tobacco Atlas, around 160,100 people are killed by tobacco products every year in Pakistan. He said despite this alarming figure, over 24 million users continue to use tobacco products, smoking over 85 billion sticks every year. He said Pakistan has not defined Tobacco products and no laws exist to prohibit misleading tobacco product packaging and labelling including terms, descriptors, trademarks, or figurative or other signs. Also, there are no laws advising cessation and penalties are not in line with the FCTC. However, it was about time that Pakistan should formulate a comprehensive policy which outlines actionable and time-bound measures to tackle the multi-sectoral challenges, he added.
Saadiya Razzaq, Research Manager, Population and Development at Population Council pointed out that there was no mention of even a single time of word ‘tobacco’ in our existing laws and SROs pertaining to tobacco control, which shows the commitment of the country. She said tobacco control is not solely the responsibility of the government, but of the society as a whole role to play. She highlighted the need for a regressive media campaign through all platforms and at all levels to raise awareness among the general public.
SDPI Research Associate Syed Ali Wasif Naqvi while highlighted the role of Punjab Food Authority in countering the menace of tobacco products, said Pakistan is lagging behind in the region in the implementation of graphic health warnings on tobacco products, whereas, India and Nepal have successfully implemented the 85 percent graphic waning covers on the tobacco products.
He said owing to financial interest and lack of political will, the existing laws and regulation are not being implanted in true spirit. Lack of implementation of existing laws, promulgation of robust tobacco control laws, excessive tobacco industry influence resulting into massive tax evasion, lack of Tobacco Control knowledge and capacity among the legislators are the major challenges of tobacco control regulations in Pakistan, he added.
Akhtar Syed of The Network for Consumer Protection said the dilemma was that the ministry of health was working on Tobacco Control, whereas Pakistan Tobacco Board (PTB) is working on tobacco promotion. He said there is a need to empower the health ministry in taking independent decisions.
Also, there was a need to reactivate the tobacco control committees at the district levels which need to be expanded at tehsil levels. He urged the government to calculate the health cost of tobacco consumption which can be utilized for taking affirmative actions for tobacco control in Pakistan.