ISLAMABAD: While the Islamabad High Court waits to hear a case regarding the enlarged pictorial health warning on cigarette packaging, the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) on Tuesday issued a notification increasing the size of the warning from 50 to 60pc, on either side of the pack.
The ministry has also decided to change the image on the packaging, and has directed all tobacco companies to introduce new packaging in the market from June 1.
In January 2015, the government had issued a statutory regulatory order (SRO increasing the size of the pictorial health warning from 40 to 85pc and replacing the image on cigarette packs within five months.
The NHS minister at the time, Saira Afzal Tarar, was even awarded by the World Health Organisation for the decision, which the government could not implement for another nearly four years.
Soon after the then-NHS minister’s announcement a delegation from the tobacco industry, led by a high commissioner, had met with then-finance minister Ishaq Dar, and they decided that the matter would be reconsidered by an inter-ministerial committee.
Notification issued on Tuesday also changed image on packaging, directed companies to introduce new packaging from June 1
The committee decided that the pictorial health warning would be enlarged from 40 to 50pc – a decision that was delayed for more than two years, after civil society members went to court to keep the original increase to 85pc.
The pictorial health warning was increased to 50pc by the federal cabinet in 2017, and the decision was implemented last June. An image depicting throat cancer also replaced an image depicting mouth cancer.
According to a statement issued by the NHS ministry, a notification has been issued to print new packaging on which the warning will take up 60pc of the pack, on either side, for cigarettes manufactured in or imported to Pakistan.
The new warning will also depict gangrene, which is caused by smoking.
NHS Minister Aamer Mehmood Kiani said the ministry was committed to reducing the prevalence of tobacco consumption in the country.
He said the new warning would effectively communicate risks and motivate behavioural changes such as quitting, or reducing cigarette consumption.
Tobacco consumption causes the deaths of around 160,100 Pakistanis every year. About 24 million adults currently use tobacco in some form, and young people are being targeted by the tobacco industry as ‘replacement’ smokers, the statement added.
It said: “Tobacco Control Cell (TCC) of the Ministry is taking demand and supply reduction measures to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use in the country. In this regard, the Cell banned sale of loose cigarettes sticks, banned import of tobacco and non-tobacco sheesha and related substances, banned tobacco advertisement in print, electronic and outdoor media, banned cigarette packs having less than 20 cigarettes, illegalized designated smoking areas/smoking rooms, declared public places 100pc smoke-free, raised awareness among masses, and built capacity of authorized persons to support enforcement.”
The technical head of the TCC, Dr Mohammad Ziauddin, told Dawn that the ministry had failed to increase the warning size to 85pc, and decided to increase it to 60pc in order to find a way out.
“Moreover, the IHC is going to hear the case on Jan 31, and in case of the decision the pictorial health warning can be increased up to 85pc,” he said.
Pakistan National Heart Association legal adviser Malik Imran said that while it was commendable that the size of the warning had been increased and the image changed, “tobacco companies fade the pictures due to which pictures become ineffective”.
“The ministry should ensure the picture is prominent on the packets,” he said.
Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2019