Monday July 22, 2024

$20m export of cigarettes in limbo

In Pakistan, only packs of 10 cigarettes are allowed to be sold in the domestic market

By Mehtab Haider
June 03, 2024
The image shows a tobacco company worker handling cigarettes. — AFP/File
The image shows a tobacco company worker handling cigarettes. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: An order of approximately $20 million export of small packets of cigarettes from Pakistan appears to be in limbo, it is learnt.

According to the details, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif constituted a committee to amend the Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) titled “The Prohibition of Sale of Cigarettes to Minor Rules 2010” to allow the export of small packets having ten cigarettes in the light of international best practices under commitment of Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

In Pakistan, only packs of 10 cigarettes are allowed to be sold in the domestic market.

During the high-powered committee, it was told that Pakistan Tobacco Company (PTC) requested an amendment in Rule 2, Sub Rule (3) of the SRO “Prohibition of Sale of Cigarettes to Minor Rules 2010” to enable PTC to export the small packets to Sudan. In The proposed amendments came under discussions in the light of Article 16 (3) of FCTC to which Pakistan is signatory. The Law and Justice Division did not attend the meeting and it was written in the official noting that the law Ministry’s input was not received.

Without input from Law Ministry, the minutes were forwarded to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. The PM Office took notice of the situation and returned the official minutes to the committee.

In the meanwhile, the PM Office forwarded Law and Justice Division in this matter to Ministry of Health along with the direction to re-examine the matter in the light of the views of Ministry of Law & Justice and submit a report.

The Ministry of Law & Justice stated that FTC provides certain obligations on its signatories towards implementing measures aimed at curtailing or regulating tobacco usage within its own territorial jurisdiction. The Ministry of Law cited example of Article 16 (3) of FCTC and stated that the countries are obligated to restrict the sale of cigarettes either individually or in small packets within their respective jurisdictions to deter accessibility and affordability, particularly among minors.

However, the prohibitions provided under the said Article is limited to the domestic sale of tobacco products within a country and does not apply to cross border transactions. He added that wherever the FCTC intends to regulate cross border transactions, it explicitly states and provides so in the FCTC. In this regard, he referred to Article 15 (2) (b) of FCTC that deal with illicit trade and cross border advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

The consultant Law and Justice Division pointed out that Article 16 (3) of FCTC does not prohibit the production or export of small packs of tobacco products but rather prohibits their sale.

Ministry of Law & Justice was of the view that Rule 2 (3) of SRO 863 (1) 2010 titled “Prohibition of Sales of Cigarettes to Minor Rules 2010” would need to be suitably amended to allow companies to manufacture small packet of cigarettes for export purposes.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs took stance that the proposed amendments in the SRO is a violation of FCTC as it was based on FCTC’ principles that aim at restricting sale and export of small cigarettes packs to curtail its access to minors due to affordability. He however added under Rules of Business 1973 interpretation of laws/rules and regulations fall within the mandate of Ministry of law & justice.

Director General Ministry of Commerce and representative of Ministry of Industries also supported the stance taken by Ministry of Law and Justice.

Based on legal opinion, the committee was of the view that FCTC does not bar Pakistan or any other signatory country to allow export of small packs of cigarettes to other countries. So the Rule of SRO titled “Prohibition of Sales to Cigarettes to Minor Rule 2010” can be amended to enable the companies to export small packs. However, to prevent the illegal sale of cigarettes packs containing less than 20 sticks within Pakistan while allowing their export to other countries several measures may be implemented. These measures should focus on clear labelling such as “For Export Purposes only”, robust tracking and strict regulatory enforcement.

The sources said that in such regulatory enforcement requirement the export order of around $20 million was almost impossible to fulfil.