ISLAMABAD: Tobacco companies are continuously promoting cigarettes through advertising and gift schemes despite being banned from doing so.

This, unfortunately, is the reason why policies made by the government to protect the health of people fail.

This was revealed by a team of the Citizens Health Initiative that visited markets and collected evidence of several tobacco brands promoting their products. The survey, conducted during the first quarter of this year, showed that vendors and consumers were being lured in by tobacco brands through reward schemes, cash prices, and attractive discounts to increase sales.

Posters for cigarettes, incentive letters to consumers, and schemes for vendors were also being issued to introduce nicotine products on a larger scale, the survey revealed.

As per law, reward schemes to attract consumers and incentives for vendors are banned in Pakistan. Furthermore, the law prohibits online advertising of nicotine products, point-of-sale advertisements or displays, reward schemes, cash prizes and any kind of schemes that may promote smoking.

Members of the team observed that illegal brands have also taken advantage of the negligence of agencies concerned and have launched discount schemes in various cities of Punjab. Some companies are offering huge discounts in different cities, free packets, and cups bearing the name of a tea company.

Illegal incentives and reward schemes are also spreading to other cities in Sindh where companies have give cash, motorcycles and other prizes to consumers. Another company, allegedly provided vendors with gold foil coins and bars for pasting large posters at retail sites.

According to health experts, despite the ban on reward schemes and public advertisements for promotion of cigarettes, the agencies concerned and departments have remained silent. Due to this, Pakistan has left all Asian countries behind in the sale of illegal cigarettes.

Pulmonologist Dr Nadeem Rizvi said, “Tobacco control laws are being openly violated and despite having legal authority, the authorities are not interested in stopping illegal sale of cigarettes.”

He said it was unfortunate and the overall sale of cigarettes in Pakistan has not declined in the past few years, adding that it was imperative for authorities to crack down against violators of laws and eliminate the advertisement of cigarettes before it was too late.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2022

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