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Anti-tobacco activists urge Senate not to pass tobacco industry tainted legislation

While calling on senators from both opposition and treasury not to pass the private members bill to amend the Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers Health Ordinance 2002, tobacco control advocates appreciated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for his decision to oppose the bill.

Nadeem Iqbal, CEO of TheNetwork for Consumer Protection, said: “The main thrust of the amendment in the existing tobacco law was to ban tobacco advertisement inside shops that is enticing children to take up smoking.”

But it’s intriguing to note, laments Nadeem, that the Senate committee where the amendment was referred to, in its report, took pains to defend the tobacco industry: “…ban on interior display will deprive retailers dealing in tobacco products of their right to carry out a legitimate business. Moreover, the inclusion of “visibility of tobacco products at point of sales in advertising will hamper consumer’s right to freedom of choice.”

The ground reality is different. The astonishing results of a survey conducted in six mega cities by TheNetwork show that tobacco companies are targeting children. The survey revealed 83% shops as having powerwalls/cigarettes behind cash counter, 52% shops having cigarettes inside glass counters, 50% shops placing cigarettes with candies/snacks, 14% shops giving ‘limited time offers’ or ‘free gifts’ on purchase of cigarettes, and 89% shops not displaying ‘No sale to Minors’ signage.

The Coalition for Tobacco Control Pakistan (CTC-Pak) has also expressed serious concerns over the recently presented private member’s bill on tobacco control in the Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination by Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed. Referring to the report comprising recommendations by the committee, Khurram Hashmi, National Coordinator, CTC-Pak, expressed disappointment. “The committee opposed the comprehensive ban on TAPS presented in the bill in the larger interest of public health. However, it omitted new amendments to fully enforce TAPS (Tobacco Advertisement, Promotion and Sponsorship) ban and laws to plug marketing techniques employed by tobacco industry to target young kids.”

“CTC-Pak feels this bill has turned controversial considering it has lost the true essence. It is ironic and unfortunate that the representatives of people who pledge to serve the people defended the tobacco industry instead of prioritising national health,” Khurram maintained. The CTC-Pak chief said, “We demand the members of committee to retain and pass the bill in its original context. We hope Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed will defend the bill as per his commitment to protect our youth from exposure to tobacco products. Dissecting the bill to accommodate the interests of tobacco industry will greatly jeopardise the decade-long efforts being done by tobacco control advocates and actions taken by the Pakistan in this regard.”

As a signatory to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), banning tobacco and related products was one of the major steps every country had to take in addition to many other measures including increasing taxation, banning tobacco use in public places, etc. Hence, implementing FCTC framework convention, protocols and covenants were legally binding on Pakistan. But unfortunately, the recommendations proposed by the committee will undermine years of hard work of tobacco control advocates, health workers, community leaders, mobilisers, lab staff, religious and political leaders, and the millions of others who contributed in to create effective tobacco control laws and politics.

Condemning the tobacco industry’s influence over the government and public institutions, CTC-Pak also demanded immediate enforcement of larger graphic health warnings on cigarette packs and vigorous monitoring of implementation of tobacco control laws.

Reporter. Anti-tobacco activists urge Senate not to pass tobacco industry tainted legislation. The News, February 20, 2017.

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