ISLAMABAD: Minister for National Health Services (NHS) Aamer Mehmood Kiani has written to the chief ministers of all four provinces to implement the law on the enlarged pictorial health warning on packets of cigarettes.

In a letter to Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar, the minister suggested directions to the relevant authorities in the province to launch a crackdown on the violators of the law.

The letter stated that tobacco use caused death of around 160,100 people in Pakistan every year. Almost 23.9 million adults currently use tobacco in any form and the economic cost of smoking in Pakistan amounted to Rs143 billion.

“Pakistan is obligated to achieve the targets set in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Under target 3.4, Pakistan has to reduce one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being by 2030. Tobacco use is the leading preventable risk factor from NCDs. Moreover, under SDG target 3(a), Pakistan is obligatory to strengthen the implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).”

It stated that there had been proven association between pictorial health warnings on cigarettes packs and intent to quit smoking and deterrence of youth to initiate smoking. FCTC suggests that each party shall adopt and implement effective measures to ensure that health warnings and messages are large, clear, visible and legible.

“Ministry of NHS, on 19th Dec 2017, prescribed new PHW on cigarette packets and outers. The PHW covers 50pc of front side and 50pc of rear side of cigarette packets and outers. The notification has come into force from June 1, 2018. Moreover, no design features of cigarette packets shall contribute towards reducing effectiveness of the warning. However, recently the ministry has noticed violation of the notification and packets of cigarettes with no PHW or less than 50pc are available in the market. It is also observed that some companies have printed PHW with distorted colour scheme along with printing of professional message,” the letter added.

According to section 4 of Cigarettes (Printing of Warning) Ordinance 1979, no person shall manufacture packets of cigarettes, possess or sell or offer for sale on which the warning is not printed as prescribed by the government.

It added that the violation of the law shall be punishable with imprisonment up to two years or with fine up to Rs10,000 or both.

Technical head of the ministry’s tobacco control cell Dr Ziauddin told Dawn that companies had to increase the PHW by 85pc of the size of cigarette packets. The companies at a meeting of the federal cabinet had given an understanding and also written to the prime minister to allow them to increase the size by 50pc.

“They were allowed to increase the size by 50pc of packets instead of 85pc but tobacco companies are not willing to implement their commitments. The minister has taken up the matter with the chief ministers to address the issue,” he said.

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2018