IT is encouraging that action is being taken on an issue that has for long been relegated to the back burner. According to recent news reports, the federal health services minister, Aamer Kiani, has written to the chief ministers of all four provinces about the need to apply more stringently the law on enlarged pictorial health warnings on cigarette packets. Suggesting a crackdown, one of the letters — to the Punjab chief minister — notes that the use of tobacco products causes the deaths of some 160,000 people every year across the country. Almost 23.9m adult Pakistanis use the leaf in some form or the other, and the economic cost resultantly incurred by the national economy stands at a staggering Rs143bn. Pointing out that under the targets, that are in line with the UN SDGs, the country is obligated to reducing one-third premature mortalities from non-communicable diseases, Mr Kiani noted that tobacco use is the leading preventable risk factor from NCDs. He added that under SDG 3(a), Pakistan must strengthen the implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
The most frustrating aspect of the war of attrition that Pakistan must continue to wage against the use of tobacco is that at least on paper, the laws have been framed and are available. Section 4 of the Cigarettes (Printing of Warning) Ordinance, 1979, prohibits the manufacture and/ or sale of cigarette packets that do not carry health warnings as prescribed by the government. Similarly, as recently as December, the health ministry prescribed enlarged pictorial health warnings for tobacco packaging, a notification that came into force in June this year. These are part of a network of laws and directives that includes bans on smoking in public places, the sale of tobacco to minors, the sale of loose cigarettes etc. Even so, violators are legion, and smoking continues to entrap millions. This is a battle that the country can simply not afford to give up on.
Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2018