Pakistan’s tobacco control regime
There is a plethora of laws in Pakistan targeting various aspects of tobacco control. These include taxation, graphic health warnings, restriction of smoking spaces and advertisement bans. Still, there is a broad agreement that the tobacco industry, with support from its international partners, has outflanked the legislative process.
Pakistan has reasonably long experience of laws enacted to control the spread of tobacco and related products. The story of tobacco industry out-manoeuvring legislation therefore makes for interesting reading.
The West Pakistan Vend Act was enacted in 1958; the law dealt with the licencing, manufacturing, retailing and dealing with tobacco products. Pursuant to this, legislation and multiple Statutory Regulatory Orders were issued from time to time, such as the 1959 Juvenile Smoking Ordinance and the 1979 Printing of Warning on Cigarette Packing rule. In 2002, there was a major revision of tobacco control. The national tobacco control regime got stronger as Pakistan became a party to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2004. As emphasis on ill effects of tobacco products increased, laws in Pakistan were routinely updated.
The laws did not have a free pass. This made it easier for the tobacco industry to mitigate their impact. Reduced tax collection, for example, caused a Rs 33 billion loss to the government. While the industry continued to make hefty profits, a tobacco taxation tier was abolished. The implementation of the SRO 22(KE)/2015 proposing the Graphic Health Warning to be increased to 85 per cent was initially delayed and eventually reduced to 50 per cent and 60 per cent (to be implemented in 2018 and 2019).
The focus meanwhile has been on legislation, which has not been supported by effective implementation. Obviously, to have an impact a tobacco control legislation has to be enforced.
When Pakistan became a party to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2004, the national tobacco control regime got stronger
The implementing authority has to have competent human resource and be totally free of the tobacco industry influence. SRO 654 (I)/2003 authorises a bus/van conductor and drivers to eject a smoker from the vehicle. How frequently does one see this happening? And what happens, as is fairly common, if the driver or the conductor is smoking?
There is a clear need to enact laws that are logically and culturally enforceable. Incompetence of the enforcement agency in tobacco control regime results makes a mockery of the law.
The role of mass media campaigns for public and general awareness cannot be overemphasised. Opinion leaders, legislators and policy makers need to understand the gravity of the problem and to stay a step ahead of the tobacco industry.
We are lagging on many positive indicators globally, yet we are among the top 10 countries in tobacco use. A comprehensive tobacco control (and finally elimination) policy can only be based on local research and analysis. Research carried out in other countries is not always applicable in Pakistan. The research needs to include issues of health effects such as mortality rates, tobacco related cancer and hospital admission ratios, number of deaths, presence of various chemicals in tobacco products, prevalence of pesticides in tobacco and smoke, economic burden at micro and macro levels and other socio-cultural issues such as juvenile tobacco inspiration.
In Pakistan, there is an enormous potential for controlling the menace of tobacco. This can be best achieved through robust enforcement of laws before further legislation.
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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.