ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Wednesday set aside a stay order that has acted as an obstacle to remove tobacco advertisements across the country.
Mohammad Javed, the project manager at the national health services (NHS) ministry’s Tobacco Control Cell (TCC), told Dawn that letters will be sent to all provinces to remove advertisements as soon as the court’s orders are received in writing.
Efforts to end tobacco consumption and to discourage passive smoking began almost a decade ago, when Prof Dr Javed Khan from Aga Khan University filed an application in the Supreme Court calling for the implementation of anti-smoking laws.
Former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry took suo motu notice and the hearing of the case began, during which it was emphasised that tobacco is one of the main causes of early deaths.
An NHS ministry official who is not authorised to speak on the record said the ministry issued a statutory regulatory order (SRO) on Dec 31, 2013 to halt the advertisement of tobacco products.
The SRO, available with Dawn, states that the advertisement of tobacco products through the depiction of a human or animal image or through branding on fabric is banned in cinemas, on cable television and closed circuit televisions.
The advertisement of tobacco was also banned through posters or banners made of paper, fabric or plastic and through fixed or mobile billboards. The SRO was to be implemented from May 1, 2014.
The ministry official said a tobacco company obtained a stay order from the Sindh High Court (SHC) on May 28, 2014.
The stay order, also available with Dawn, stated that new advertisements could not be displayed while existing advertisements could not be removed. The court also permitted advertisements inside shops through posters.
“After that we were not in a position to take any action against the advertisements. Fresh advertisements were also displayed by tobacco companies, but we couldn’t take action because it wasn’t possible to prove that the advertisements were prepared before May 2014,” the official said.
The official said the suo motu hearing, which had not been held for years, started again last year. “We informed the Supreme Court that we couldn’t take any action because of the SHC stay order.”
The official said a two-member bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, had set aside the high court stay order.
According to a statement from the NHS ministry, a Supreme Court bench directed the NHS ministry to implement the relevant provisions of the tobacco control law, as it had full power to do so.
It said the tobacco manufacturing company M/s Phillip Morris Pakistan had moved SHC challenging an SRO issued by the ministry, contending that the ministry did not have powers to implement the law and issue an SRO in the wake of the 18th Amendment. SHC then issued a restraining order, thereby stopping the implementation of the SRO.
In its hearing on Wednesday, the Supreme Court directed that the NHS ministry was fully empowered to undertake statutory measures as per the 2002 anti-tobacco ordinance.
The court also directed SHC to dispose of the case within two months, the statement said.
Published in Dawn, February 4th, 2016