ISLAMABAD: Health advocates on Sunday lauded Prime Minister Imran Khan for withdrawing from a webinar that was being organised by an international tobacco company, terming it “the government’s commitment towards controlling tobacco use in the country”.
They said the prime minister’s attendance would have sent a wrong message to the international community as this was a violation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
Country representative of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids Malik Imran said this was a positive development and showed the prime minister’s commitment towards controlling tobacco use in the country, especially among youth.
The online webinar – set to take place this week – is about Asia’s role in global recovery in the post-Covid era, and will involve heads of cabinet from Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Malaysia and Nepal, among other countries. The event is being sponsored by Philip Morris, Japan.
Mr Imran said the prime minister should be careful in attending such events as the tobacco industry tycoons use such events to cultivate personal linkages with top government officials and influence policies in their favour.
Tobacco-related diseases have been causing a loss of Rs615 billion to the national exchequer per annum, according to a latest report by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (Pide). This amounts to 1.6pc of the country’s GDP, which experts said, could be reduced significantly by imposing health levy on tobacco products.
Khalil Ahmed, programme manager at the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc), said Pakistan was signatory to the United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child and the prime minister’s attendance at the event would have been a clear violation of it.
He said the country’s 50pc population consists of children who are directly suffering from direct and second-hand smoking. Anti-tobacco activists expressed concerns in May 2019 when the prime minister held a meeting with the representative of an international tobacco company and also received a cheque for Rs5 million as donation for the construction of dams in the country.
Mr Ahmed said Mr Khan should have been extra vigilant about his presence in international events sponsored by multinational tobacco companies after the donation fiasco. Tobacco causes at least 170,000 deaths per annum in Pakistan while thousands daily start using the product, causing a burden of billions of rupees on the national exchequer.
Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2021