DO awareness campaigns really do what we think they do? By the looks of it, such campaigns also have the potential of doing just the opposite of whatever the target of any such campaign happens to be.
For instance, we often hear about smoking is injurious to health, and cold drinks are bad for health, and paan and beetle nut cause mouth cancer. Packets of cigarette bear nasty pictures of cancerous human organs to frighten the users. Social media is abuzz with the harmful effects of carbonated drinks. Every motion picture is prefaced with a warning about the detrimental effects of smoking and drinking. Cigarette commercials are banned on national broadcast. Academic and clinical research discourages their use, but does any of it work?
The irony is that the consumption of such harmful substances is rampant more than ever. The more widespread the public awareness campaigns against these noxious substances become, the more traction they receive among the youth.
With the passage of time, these elements have mutated cigarette into sheesha and vape, chalia into gutka, and cold drinks into ‘energy drinks’. Sheesha cafes, vape centres and the open sale of cigarettes are common which is in defiance of government orders. Smokers’ corner is now an unofficial part of the infrastructure of educational institutions. Public awareness campaigns have simply failed to do much in this critical regard.
One wonders why the production and sale of such harmful substances are allowed to continue. Should we not nip the evil in the bud? We have seen that the bane of kite flying has been almost completely eradicated. What stops us from doing the same to cigarettes and such other substances? And in the answer to this question lies the crux of the matter. We could take care of the kites because it was a local cottage industry. Its manufacturers were not as powerful and resourceful as are those who patronise, say, cigarettes and cold drinks.
The latter are sold on a large scale both nationally and internationally, and are supported by their respective governments. A news report in national media recently said the United States embassy in Islamabad backed the demand of beverage companies for the withdrawal of the proposed seven per cent increase in federal excise duty (FED). A US embassy delegation, led by the commercial counsellor, and comprising representatives of multinational beverage companies, visited the offices of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and met the relevant officials there to discuss the matter.
Besides, the government has claimed in its mini-budget that the increase in general sales tax (GST) rate to 18pc and the imposition of up to 153pc additional FED on cigarettes and higher FED on sugary drinks would generate significant revenue streams. How will the government ever dare kill its golden goose?
As the cottage industry producing kites was not adding anything directly to the national exchequer or into the deep pockets of the people at the helm of affairs, the government came hard on it. This is not about defending kite-flying at all.
The point is that the cash cows are being allowed to thrive at the cost of human health and life. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. At least it should be. Or, does it actually mean that beggars cannot be choosers?
M. Nadeem Nadir
Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2023
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