ISLAMABAD: Members of a parliamentary committee on Wednesday turned down a bill seeking a ban on sheesha and other injurious substances.

The Islamabad Prohibition of Sheesha Smoking Bill, 2016, which was introduced by Senator Mohammad Azam Khan Swati, was taken up for discussion at the Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services’ (NHS) meeting, which was chaired by Senator Sajjad Hussein Turi.

The bill suggests that the manufacturing, import and all kinds of trades regarding sheesha should be banned as it is injurious to health and causes cancer.

Though some representatives of the ministries of NHS and Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD) were in favour of the bill as were the representatives of the Law Division, members of the committee were not convinced on passing it.

CADD Deputy Director General Health Dr Minhajul Siraj wanted to give a presentation on the hazards of sheesha and the effects of wood burning for roasting tobacco, but was not allowed to speak.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Senator Nauman Wazir was strongly against the bill and in favour of the tobacco industry. He also pointed to the sale of smuggled cigarettes, which causes losses to the tobacco industry and the state.

When CADD Joint Secretary Health Ayesha Farooq said that tobacco was a major cause of cancer, Mr Wazir asked that if sheesha was allowed all over the world, why should it be banned in Pakistan.

“Are we more health conscious that other countries? Just tell me if any other country has banned sheesha,” he said. The representative of the Tobacco Cell in the NHS ministry, Mohammad Javed said that Singapore has banned sheesha, but Mr Wazir ignored his reply.

“Zero nicotine sheesha is also available now and I do not agree with the proposal to ban sheesha,” Senator Wazir maintained.

To this, Mr Javed said that the National Institute of Health, USA had found that sheesha with zero nicotine, including herbal sheesha, could also lead to cancer.

The chairman of the committee said he was not in favour of banning sheesha but thought that the drugs given to the younger generation in the name of sheesha should be banned.

The technical head of the Tobacco Control Cell, Dr Ziauddin said the Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers Health Ordinance 2002 provided the option for banning tobacco and other substances to be banned in public places.

To this, Senator Wazir said there was no need for passing the bill and can be disposed of.

A representative of the Law Division said the word “other” in laws leads to ambiguities which only the courts can define. He suggested the bill be adopted and declared beneficial for the public.

However, the committee decided to dispose of the bill saying that existing law already covers it.

The recent international conference on the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control also shows concern that the tobacco industry has been using politicians for furthering its interests.

However, Senator Wazir told Dawn that it was not true that he was defending the interests of the tobacco industry.

“Pakistan gets Rs134 billion in revenues from the tobacco industry, which employs around a million people. I care about these people and not the industry.

PMDC told to ensure 50pc free beds for the poor

The committee also directed the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council to designate focal persons in all provinces to check on the implementation of the rule to set aside 50pc of the beds to offer for free to poor patients, according to the council’s rules.

Teaching hospitals are bound to reserve half the beds for free treatment, but the rule is rarely implemented.

Published in Dawn November 17th, 2016