Minister surprises tobacco lobby with new regulations

Published February 12, 2015
Minister for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar.—APP/File
Minister for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar.—APP/File

ISLAMABAD: It is not easy to take a stand against the influential tobacco industry, so it was little surprise that when Minister for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar announced a decision to increase the size of pictorial warnings on cigarette packets, no one expected it.

She said her ministry had kept this decision a secret because of possible pressure from the tobacco industry and said that companies would be notified of the decision after the press conference on Wednesday.

Pakistan introduced textual warning on cigarette packets in 1979. The Prohibition of Smoking Ordinance was passed in 2002 and the textual warning was improved.

Also read: New tobacco taxes to boost revenue, discourage smoking

In 2004, Pakistan ratified the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and in 2009, the decision was made to introduce pictorial warnings on cigarette packets. The decision was implemented in 2010 and it was decided that every year, the pictorial warning would be changed to make sure the people did not start ignoring the warnings. However, in Pakistan, the pictorial warnings have not been changed since 2010.

Ms Afzal had announced last year on World No-Tobacco Day (May 31) that she would change the pictorial warnings and increase their size on cigarette packs before the next World No-Tobacco Day.

Pictorial anti-smoking warnings will now cover 85 per cent of cigarette packets

At Wednesday’s news conference, the minister said the new pictorial warning will cover 85 per cent of the cigarette pack, on both sides. The measure will make Pakistan only the third country in the world besides Thailand and India to have enhanced Pictorial Health Warning to cover 85 per cent of tobacco packaging.

“A consultation process was initiated with the provinces to revive the Tobacco Control Programme and strengthen it. Today, Pakistan has fulfilled its obligations under Article 11 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and has become an example for other countries to follow,” she said.

“Tobacco use is a major cause of deaths world-wide and in Pakistan. The world has seen 100 million deaths in the 20th century from tobacco-related causes. In Pakistan, 100,000 people lose their lives every year from tobacco-related diseases,” she said.

“The pictorial warnings on tobacco packs are the most effective means of communication with tobacco users. According to research, a smoker looks at this picture at an average of 7,000 times in a year. Moreover, those who intend to initiate smoking are discouraged by the warning, whereas it encourages those who intend to quit smoking,” she said.

Under the new measure, cigarettes manufactured in the country, sold in the country and imported into the country will be required to print the new pictorial warning on their packs by March 30, 2015, she said.

The minister added that any manufacturer, importer, distributor or retailer violating the new law shall be proceeded against.

Answering reporters’ questions, she said that it had not been an easy decision to make. She said that there will be issues with stocks that are already available in the market, but the ministry will ensure that the decision is implemented before the next World No-Tobacco Day.

Published in Dawn February 12th , 2015

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