ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf on Thursday demanded formation of a parliamentary committee to identify mafias and cartels which have been trying to give benefit to multinational tobacco companies.

Raising the issue as a point of order during the National Assembly session, he said across the globe campaigns were held against smoking but he had learnt that efforts had been made to decrease prices of cigarettes in the budget 2020-21.

“Across the globe prices of cigarettes are being increased to make it inaccessible to the youth. In Pakistan, efforts are being taken for the benefit of tobacco companies due to which problems of tobacco growers are increasing. The house should form a committee to probe who is behind the move,” he added.Meanwhile, tobacco growers at a a press conference at the National Press Club demanded removal of Rs500 advance tax on tobacco leaves. They urged government to direct multinational tobacco companies to give improved financial benefit to the farmers.

Mafias and cartels are trying to give benefit to multinational tobacco companies, says ex-PM

The representatives of Mehnat Kash Labour Federation, Kissan Board Pakistan, Sarhad Agricultural and Rural Development Organisation, Pakistan Tobacco Growers Association, Anjuman Tahaffuz Huqooq Kashtkaraan, Kashtkaar Coordination Council Dealers Association said over the request of the farmer unions Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser had formed an agriculture committee under the supervision of Shandana Gulzar.

The farmers’ association presented their demands to the committee which included removal of the Rs500 advance tax on the tobacco leaves.

They said the multinational tobacco companies should be notified that farmers should get a better return for their tobacco production.

Further, they demanded tobacco companies should devise an easy policy for the purchase of tobacco, which is a cash crop, and tobacco companies should open new purchase centres to purchase tobacco from the farmers. The companies should also place technical workers in tobacco growing areas to facilitate farmers, and factory workers should be given due rights.

“Speaker Qaiser considered the demands and hosted a meeting with the representatives of tobacco farmers and industry labour in which representatives of FBR, industry and tobacco board were also present.”

It was decided that no additional tax will be imposed on dry tobacco leaves and issues related to farmers will be addressed on a priority basis. He assured the farmers that no additional tax would be imposed on the purchase of tobacco.

Meanwhile, Society for Protection of Rights of the Child (Sparc) organised an online “Knowledge and fact-sharing session regarding effects of tobacco on health” in which anti-tobacco activists urged the government to implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to save millions of lives which are at risk due to “deceiving tactics of tobacco industry.”

Malik Imran Ahmed, country head Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids said the government should follow example of Australia to enforce plain packaging for tobacco products, a step required to prevent loss of millions of lives in near future.

Sajjad Ahmed Cheema, Executive Director Sparc, said in Pakistan more than 170,000 people die every year due to diseases caused and aggravated by the usage of tobacco products.

The anti-tobacco activists demanded the government move forward with the confidence that it can overcome any challenges thrown by tobacco industry.

According to the activists, plain packaging is a much-needed course of action required to save lives by reducing tobacco use along with graphic health warnings, advertising bans, higher tobacco taxes and 100 per cent smoke-free laws.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2020