ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) has issued a show-cause notice to multibillion dollar tobacco company for violating the ban on advertising tobacco products.

Advertisements were also whitewashed with the assistance of the capital administration, and other goods allegedly provided by the company were confiscated from a hotel near Bari Imam.

The notice, available with Dawn, stated that according to the Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers Health Ordinance 2002, no tobacco advertisements are allowed outside shops, kiosks or mobile trolleys. In addition, free goods, cash rebates, free samples and goods cannot be given for the purpose of advertising tobacco or tobacco products.

“It has been noticed that Pakistan Tobacco Company (PTC) Limited has advertised tobacco products at various hotels in Islamabad and Lodhran. Moreover free goods carrying promotional messages were provided to hotels.

“In view of the forgoing you are herby directed to submit a written reply within seven days of the receipt of the notice as to why necessary legal action would not be initiated against the management of PTC. You are also directed to rollback all such promotion activities,” the notice said.

Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat told Dawn that the NHS ministry had approached him with a complaint regarding the violation.

“As it is our responsibility to remove such violations, I immediately directed to remove all goods and wall-chalking from the hotel. We even take such actions without getting official complaints,” he said.

An NHS official who asked to remain anonymous said the matter was raised on social media and then verified by the ministry, which directed the administrations in Islamabad and Lodhran.

“PTC is the affiliated company of the same company that held a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan this month and handed him a Rs5 million cheque for the Supreme Court’s Diamer Bhasha and Mohmand Dam fund,” he added.

“As this was a violation of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Babar Bin Atta was appointed focal person on tobacco control,” he said.

Mr Atta told Dawn that after learning of the violation, he directed the concerned ministry department to remove the violations and seek an explanation from the company.

In a statement, PTC said: “Once we receive the notice, we will be filing in our reply within the seven days. We believe that we have not broken any law and this will reflect in our reply as well.”

It added: “PTC is a legally compliant organization that supports sensible regulation and has never broken any law put in place by the Government of Pakistan. Instead PTC gets affected when laws are broken by the local companies that are openly violating fiscal and marketing laws of Pakistan and there is no one to hold them accountable for it.”

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2019