ISLAMABAD: The registration of three police cases regarding the violation and non-implementation of tobacco laws has triggered debate on whether the hundreds of thousands of people involved in the production, supply, import, distribution and sale of cigarettes are violating the law and if they may be liable to be punished.

According to an official of the Ministry of Health (NHS), the ministry issued a Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) 86 (KE)/2009 on Oct 23, 2009 which mandated that a 40pc pictorial health warning be printed on both sides of a cigarette packet. The ministry amended the rules in 2015 and issued two SROs.

According to the official, the SRO 22(KE)/2015 directed that the pictorial warnings be increased from 40pc to 85pc and the SRO 23(KE)/2015 directed that the picture of lip cancer be changed with that of throat cancer.

The last date of the implementation of SRO23, for the change of picture, was extended every month but that for SRO 22 was never extended which means it is mandatory to increase the size of the pictorial health warning on cigarette packs to 85pc.

“The notification could not be implemented for two years and according to section four of the tobacco law, all those involved in the manufacturing, distribution, storing and selling of cigarettes, including officials of the tobacco industry, will be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with a fine which may extent to Rs10,000 or both,” he said.

The official said that three police cases have been registered based on applications filed by tobacco advocates and that a number of other applications will be filed across the country soon.

A copy of one of the police cases is available with Dawn, but the ministry official requested not to mention it as the tobacco industry may become active and try to stop the prosecution.

Talking to Dawn, Advocate High Court Waheed Iqbal said SRO 22 has never been extended which means cigarette packets with a 40pc pictorial warning cannot be sold.

“All those involved in the process, from manufacturing to sale, are violating the law and action can be taken against hundreds of thousands of people in the industry,” he said.

Head of the Coalition for Tobacco Control, a body with representation from over 200 non-government organisations, Khurram Hashmi said it is unfortunate that the SRO could not be implemented for two years and that no government department has bothered to take action due to pressure from and the influence of the tobacco industry.

“However, lodging complaints against all those involved in the business is a good move because this is how the law may be implemented,” he said.

Tobacco consumption causes more than 100,000 deaths in Pakistan each year, which amounts to around 300 deaths a day.

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2017