ISLAMABAD: Ministries of National Health Services (NHS) and finance have been asked to enforce the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to make cigarettes inaccessible to citizens by increasing prices and taking action against the sale of counterfeit and smuggled brands.

These directions were issued by Federal Ombudsman Syed Tahir Shahbaz on a complaint filed by the Pakistan National Hearts Association (PANAH).

The complainant alleged that the ministries had failed to implement the FCTC which was an international treaty signed by 128 countries, including Pakistan.

Ministries of NHS, finance told to implement WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 30 days

Before the announcement of the current year’s budget, the ministry of NHS had suggested increasing the tax on cigarettes from the current Rs28 to Rs44 per packet.

However, in the 2017-18 budget the ministry introduced a third tier of taxation slab due to which overall tax on cigarettes was reduced to Rs16 (per packet of 20 cigarettes).

This would increase tobacco consumption in Pakistan.

PANAH had alleged that the decision to lower the tobacco tax was based on statistics provided by the tobacco industry.

According to the findings of the ombudsman signed by Mr Shahbaz (available with Dawn), PANAH had complained against the inattention and indecision of the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) to act in accordance with the rules and regulations for the safety of human health through the reduction of tobacco consumption.

The health hazards to the youth are likely to increase, it added.

The Ministry of Finance and Agency have been implementing the regulations enunciated in the FCTC for many years but not in the current fiscal year, it added.

“The complainant had approached all concerned to act according to rules but in vain. It invoked the jurisdiction of the ombudsman office to rectify the injustice being done to the citizens through maladministration of the agency,” the documents stated.

The tobacco control cell (TCC) of the Ministry of NHS in a report had stated that the tobacco consumption was the single largest preventable cause of death in the world.

“The agency has conceded that the implementation of FCTC had previously been made. A technical working group in the ministry of NHS monitors the implementation by all stakeholders to minimise the health hazards from the consumption of tobacco. The Ministry of Finance endorsed the TCC to the extent that the implementation of its Article 6 and 15 was the obligation of Pakistan,” said the documents.

Both articles suggest making cigarettes inaccessible for the citizens by increasing the prices and stopping the sale of illicit, counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes.

“From the perusal of the record, deliberations by respondents and input of experts, the departure from established practice is proved which is maladministration. The Agency is advised to implement the obligatory Articles of FCTC strictly in accordance with regulations.”

The ombudsman also directed that the compliance should be reported within 30 days of the receipt of the findings or reasons for not doing so intimated.

If the directions are not implemented within 30 days, the federal ombudsman can take up the issue with the president of Pakistan.

When contacted, PANAH General Secretary Sanaullah Ghumman expressed the hope that the directions would be implemented as these were equal to a court order.

He said before filing the complaint, PANAH had a meeting with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the Senate chairman, the opposition leader in the National Assembly and the representatives of PTI but the issue could not be addressed.

“About three years ago, the government had announced that the pictorial warning on cigarette packets would be increased from 40pc to 85pc but it failed to implement it,” Mr Ghumman said.

“Pakistan has ratified FCTC along with 128 other countries but it is unfortunate that the treaty is not being implemented. We will use all possible channels to ensure the implementation of the treaty because the health of the citizens, especially the young generation, is at stake,” he said.

It may be noted that in Pakistan smoking causes an estimated 90pc of all lung cancer deaths in men and 80pc in women and claims the lives of 100,000 people every year.

Tobacco smoke contains 4,000 chemicals out of which 250 are known to be harmful for humans and 70 of them cause cancers. More than 600,000 nonsmokers are dying each year from secondhand smoke worldwide and one third of them are children.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2017