ISLAMABAD: After intervention of the Supreme Court, the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) has finally imposed a ban on the import of all kinds of Sheesha, its substances and flavoured tobacco.
In this regard, the Ministry of Commerce has issued the statutory regulatory order (SRO) to amend the import policy order.
Health circles expressed the hope that around 3.7 million adults may quit Sheesha after the ban. They said a typical one-hour-long Sheesha smoking session involved inhaling of 100-200 times the volume of smoke inhaled with a single cigarette.
Nadeem Iqbal, the head of a civil society organisation, The Network, told Dawn that though the decision to ban Sheesha was appreciated it happened only after the intervention of the apex court.
An official of the Ministry of NHS, requesting not to be identified, also said the ban was not possible without the intervention of the Supreme Court.
Decision made on intervention of Supreme Court which has been hearing a suo motu case since 2006
“In 2006, the then chief justice of Pakistan took a suo motu notice of the tobacco epidemic in Pakistan. Since then, a number of hearings have been held. On June 6, 2016, the court directed to ensure a ban on Sheesha and on September 27 it asked for the issuance of a notification by the next hearing of the case on October 29,” he said.
The June 6 order of the apex court says: “It seems that not much serious effort has been made for combating the menace of Sheesha and other drug related substances. Deputy Attorney General (DAG) states that the very import of Sheesha is being banned by the government. We have asked the DAG to give us a timeline. He states that this will be done within a period of one month.”
The health ministry official said after a number of orders from the court, “we requested the Ministry of Commerce to amend the import policy order but it said for that the approval of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) was required. As we don’t have a fully-fledged federal minister for NHS, we had to get the approval of the prime minister to send a letter to the ECC.”
However, on July 26, the ECC at a meeting claimed that it was not the proper forum to discuss the matter and that the ministry of NHS should approach the federal cabinet.
“Once again, we sought an approval from the prime minister to write a letter to the federal cabinet and on September 30 the approval was given to ban the import of Sheesha,” he said.
But after getting the approval from the cabinet, the ministry learnt that as there were financial implications of banning the import of Sheesha, a consultation had to be made with the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). However, the FBR supported the proposal to ban the import of Sheesha to safeguard society from its harmful effects despite the revenue implications of Rs90 million, he said.
“Finally, on October 13, the ministry of commerce issued the SRO and wrote to the FBR to direct the customs department to ensure the implementation of the order,” he said.
Project Manager Tobacco Control Cell at the Ministry of NHS, Mohammad Javed, told Dawn that according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2015, around 3.7 million adults were using Sheesha in Pakistan.
“As a number of tobacco points claim that they offer non-tobacco Sheesha, it is specially mentioned in the SRO that even the import of non-tobacco Sheesha is banned,” he said.
“We have concerns that because of the ban, local production of Sheesha can be started so letters have been sent to all the provincial chief secretaries to ensure that the local production of Sheesha was not allowed,” he said.
Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of death in the world. In Pakistan, it causes the death of around 108,800 people every year. The youth are being targeted through different means entailing enhancement in smoking tendency. Around 1,200 Pakistani children between the age of 6 and 15 start smoking every day.
According to the WHO advisory note, using a Sheesha to smoke tobacco poses a serious health hazard to smokers and others exposed to the smoke emitted. Even in case of use of tobacco-free Sheesha, people are still at the risk of carbon monoxide and any toxins in the coal or charcoal used to burn the Sheesha.
Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2016