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February 10, 2019

Enforcement of laws essential to control tobacco consumption


February 10, 2019

Islamabad : Due to lacking of effective enforcement strategy and policy, government has failed to control tobacco consumption in the country.

Despite imposing strategy to enforce anti-tobacco laws effectively, government is focusing on formulating new laws to please the international agencies. In this regard, Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination has re-constituted Committee on Tobacco Advertisement Guidelines and its first meeting is scheduled on 12 February. Director General Health, Director Implementation MNHSRC, Technical Head Tobacco Control Cell, representatives of all provinces and are the members of this committee. Currently there are dozens of anti-tobacco laws prohibiting underage smoking, sale to minors cigarette promotion and sponsorships etc, but due to non-seriousness at government end these laws were never enforced in their full spirit. According to health experts, plethora of laws and lack of their enforcement strategy are the main reasons for not controlling tobacco consumption especially in youth. Instead of implementing existing laws and enhancing enforcement action to control tobacco use, authorities and ministry officials continue to show more and more paperwork on legislations and new regulations to please the international donors and NGOs.

Health experts are of the view that lack of will for the enforcement of current laws is clearly visible, as government has already made multiple legislations against tobacco advertisements and promotions which are yet to be enforced fully in the country. According to law, it is mandatory to manufacture and sell any cigarette packet in the country carrying ministry’s approved graphical health warning. Past government had increased size of graphical health warning to 50% of the pack which was effective from June 2018. Now health ministry has further increased size of health warning to 60%.

If we take case of twin cities as an example, almost all market including the markets within a 500meter sphere of tobacco control authorities are flooded with smuggled brands which don’t carry the approved health warning. This shows lack of government will on the enforcement side, as health ministry is only writing letters and not interested in developing an effective strategy to enforce the current laws. As per the Tobacco advertisement guidelines 2009, there is a complete ban on free sampling, customer incentives, cash prizes on sale of cigarettes to consumers, however, many local cigarette manufacturers are clearly violating these laws by offering incentive schemes, prizes, money back schemes etc. to consumers.

Health experts urged that if the government is serious about controlling tobacco consumption in the country, especially in the youth, then it should focus on enforcement of current laws in full letter and spirit. But ministry’s current strategy seems to be focused on formulation of new laws, just to please international donors, which does not fulfil the actual objective of reducing the tobacco consumption in the country.

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