ISLAMABAD: The health ministry has sought the approval of the federal cabinet to legalise “heated tobacco products” (HTPs) in the country, a move criticised by activists who sought a debate on the legalisation of these products currently not available in Pakistan.

According to a document of the Cabinet Division, available with Dawn, the Ministry of National Health sought approval for the statutory regulatory order (SRO) on HTPs.

The request has been sent to the Cabinet Committee for Disposal of Legislative Cases (CCLC).

HTPs, also known as ‘heat not burn’, are made by multinational tobacco companies.

A battery-powered unit is used to heat sticks or pods of compressed tobacco which produces an aerosol, containing nicotine and other chemicals.

Activists seek PM’s intervention to stop legalisation of tobacco products

There is currently no evidence that HTPs are less harmful than conventional tobacco products.

However, most research on HTPs is funded by tobacco companies who claim that HTPs are ‘reduced risk products’ as compared to conventional cigarettes.

Although there is some evidence that HTPs produce lower levels of harmful emissions, there is no proof to support claims that these products are less harmful to the human body.

PM asked to intervene

Meanwhile, Health activists urged the prime minister, a cancer survivor himself, to intervene and stop this move, as it “will result in the spread of cancer” and other lung-related diseases, especially among minors.

Pakistan National Heart Association (PANAH) General Secretary Sanaullah Ghumman, while talking to Dawn, said that the tobacco industry was once again trying to “mislead policymakers”.

“More than 12 countries have banned such products, but in Pakistan, efforts are being made to legalise HTPs. It should be immediately eliminated from the cabinet agenda and the government shall consult all stakeholders on this issue,” he demanded.

“The countries which have banned HTPs include India, Australia, Brazil, Norway, Singapore,” he said, adding that Europe was also going to impose a ban on these products.

“We have also written letters to the government officials to remove the legalisation of HTPs from the agenda of the cabinet meeting and initiate a detailed discussion involving all stakeholders,” Mr Ghumman said.

The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) also raised alarms on the move to regularise the heated tobacco devices – a move which will purportedly put the “health of Pakistani children in grave danger”.

SPARC Program Manager Khalil Ahmed Dogar said that the tobacco industry had repeatedly proven by its actions that it does not care for the health and lives of children.

Pakistan’s former technical focal person for WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Dr Ziauddin Islam said that it was unfortunate that the health ministry was going to introduce the HTPs in Pakistan without holding any debate. “We expect Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who is a cancer survivor, would intervene and stop the move to introduce a product which will result in the increase in cancer,” he said.

Similarly, Coalition for Tobacco Control-Pakistan and other tobacco control organisations also expressed concerns and utter disappointment on measures being taken by the government to legalise HTPs.

“Being the signatory of the FCTC, issuing SRO regarding HTPs would be a violation of international convention protocols for tobacco control,” an activist said.

A high court lawyer, Malik Imran, claimed that the tobacco industry “needed children as replacement smokers for the people who have lost their lives due to tobacco consumption”.

He added that efforts were being made to float the matter in the next cabinet meeting so that the product could be introduced in Pakistan under legal cover.

He claimed that it was also being considered to reduce the size of the pictorial health warning, currently at 60 per cent on the cigarette packs, for the HTPs.

A senior official of Ministry of Health, wishing not to be quoted as matter was being forwarded to federal cabinet, told Dawn that over the years it has been observed that unregulated products are smuggled in the country, if not regulated.

“It is better to regulate products and get tax because otherwise it will arrive in Pakistan through smuggling or illegal route,” he said.

“Moreover according to some research reports HTPs are less hazardous as compared to cigarettes,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

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