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ISLAMABAD: Local tobacco manufacturers are continuously flouting laws regarding cigarette advertising and promotions by offering cash prizes and other schemes.

According to evidence available with Business Recorder, local cigarettes companies are offering prize schemes which are a clear violation of regulatory directives of the Ministry of Health.

Health experts told this scribe that as per the health ministry law, tobacco advertisement guidelines 2009, tobacco advertising is completely banned and cigarette manufacturing companies cannot offer cash prizes, any kind of incentives or gifts to enhance sales. However, local manufacturers are continuously violating the regulations and offering different prize schemes that include motorcycles, Umrah tickets, wall clocks, cigarettes cases, plastic lighters and one free cigarette pack on buying of 5 cigarettes packs etc.

According to the statutory regulatory order (SRO) of tobacco advertisement guidelines, offering free incentives like free cigarette samples and other such discounts are not allowed. The relevant government health departments and law enforcement agencies failed to implement tobacco-related laws and regulations while on the other hand local cigarettes manufacturing companies of which some are owned by parliamentarians are continuing their efforts to increase tobacco use in youth by illegal promotion activities. These local manufacturers not only violate the advertising guidelines but also evade billions of rupees due to non-payment of taxes. Statistics suggest that illicit tobacco trade in Pakistan had risen to an alarming extent to dent the legal tobacco industry. Resultantly, the pervasive tobacco black market was causing a loss of an estimated Rs 40 billion to the national kitty, annually.

In a recent campaign , videos and pictorial evidence of which is available with this correspondent, Civil Tobacco Company Bahawalnagar and seen doing advertising campaigns illegally by offering lucrative prizes to attract consumers towards illegal cigarettes brands like Kissan and Honda and other local brands. The local tobacco company Khyber Tobacco from Mardan proudly owns a brand name Kisan, which is currently amongst the top five cigarette selling brands in Pakistan and continues mocking country laws to attract youth towards smoking.

Similarly, pictures also show that an illegal cigarette brand named HONDA offers to win a motorcycle and android phones. Evidence of packs revealed selling of the Kisaan cigarette brand at a price which is far below the minimum applicable tax and below the minimum fixed price of a cigarette brand. Shopkeepers in major markets of cities and towns across Pakistan especially in districts of Southern Punjab are openly selling illegal cigarette packs with a price of around Rs15 to 35 which is far below than the minimum price of 20 cigarettes pack which is Rs48. Experts believe that multiple laws already exist and if enforced rigorously can bring down the incidence of the illicit segment and help the Government in raising more revenue as well as save youth from smoking hazards.

Experts further state that at present multiple law enforcement agencies (almost 13) have jurisdiction over laws pertaining to control illegal activities cigarettes trade. Due to lack of coordination amongst these agencies there is hardly any concerted effort to deal with this issue. In fact, due to inter-agency rivalry this sometimes results in shifting of burden and blame thereby hindering effective concerted action.

Madeeh Pasha, Manager corporate affairs of Pakistan Tobacco Company stated that the illicit cigarette industry using such antics to sell their products creates an uneven playing field because the legal industry complies to all the marketing laws which have been put in place by the government. The illicit industry on the other hand openly flouts these regulations by enticing people to buy their product through multiple incentives. Another issue that the legitimate industry has pointed out that these antics not only attract adult smokers towards their products but also the younger generation.

The anti tobacco NGO’s are always complaining about prices of cigarettes in Pakistan being the lowest which attract the youngsters to initiate smoking, however, they failed to address the issue that firstly, it is because of these local cigarette manufacturing companies, which sell at a price lower than the government’s mandated minimum price and minimum applicable tax, that Pakistan has the lowest cigarette prices in the world and secondly they violate all marketing laws and attract the youth by offering attractive prizes. Therefore, cigarettes will always be accessible and attractive and these are the key drivers for the youth to initiate smoking and the relevant law enforcement agencies need to take note of this situation. Instead of enacting newer laws, the focus should be on stringent enforcement of the existing ones, Madeeh Pasha added.

The legal industry has time and again picked up this issue with the relevant enforcement agencies, the ministry of health and have on multiple occasions emphasized the need to ensure that the enacted laws are enforced and the culprits are brought to account for violating the laws.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021