SOMETIMES the government has to be prodded into implementing its own eminently sensible decisions. Two civil society organisations have filed a petition at the Islamabad High Court demanding the government follow through on its decision to increase the size of pictorial warnings against the dangers of smoking on cigarette packs.
It has been six months since the National Health Services ministry announced that the size of the pictorial warning against smoking — required by law since 2009 — must be enhanced to cover 85pc of the pack rather than 40pc as required until then.
Despite the lapse of two grace periods of 60 days each after the statutory regulatory order came into effect on March 30, cigarette manufacturers in Pakistan have not complied. The civil society organisations in the forefront of the campaign to enforce the directive contend this is because the tobacco industry has brought pressure to bear on the ministry.
The causal link between smoking and a plethora of serious disease is an established fact, notwithstanding the tobacco industry’s historically robust propaganda against it whenever and wherever attempts have been made to warn smokers.
Strong consumer protection and public health lobbies have prompted many countries to put in place measures to discourage smoking — including banning the practice in public spaces, levying prohibitive taxes on cigarettes and making conspicuous pictorial/text warnings on packs mandatory.
In a country with low literacy rates such as Pakistan, pictorial warnings have a particularly important role to play. The government must therefore not renege on its commitment to public health by pandering to powerful corporate interests.
In fact, it should take a far more proactive role on this issue. It must strictly enforce the law against smoking in public spaces and curb the smuggling of cigarettes into the country.
The latter is a serious issue, with even the smallest of roadside kiosks carrying dozens of packets that were never meant to be in the Pakistani market at all. The government needs to make smoking a less easily accessible habit.
Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2015