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Despite presence of existing rules/regulations for cigarette advertising, Ministry of National Health Services has now formed a sub-committee ffor suggesting new guidelines The meeting of Committee on Tobacco Advertisement Guidelines, held recently in the Ministry of National Health Services, has proposed strict measures to contain indirect promotion of cigarettes too.
The sub-committee will propose new measures by March to contain attractive placing of cigarettes at shops along with sweets and other confectionaries to attract the attention of the youth and fresh smokers.
At the same time, Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Inland Revenue (IR) Enforcement Network on illicit tobacco/cigarette trade has been intensified. The specialised agency has increased number of raids against the illicit trade of cigarettes in 2019.
During the meeting of Committee on Tobacco Advertisement Guidelines, it was also observed that the provincial governments and relevant government departments entrusted to enforce tobacco control laws are not proactive in this regard.
The government had reconstituted the 'Committee' which now includes Director General Health, Director Implementation Ministry of Health Services, Technical Head Tobacco Control Cell, representatives of provinces and some NGOs, etc, are the members of this committee.
The government has already made multiple legislations against promotions and advertisements of tobacco products, mostly cigarettes, but to what extent these laws have been enforced in country is a question, the official said, adding that the government departments have not been able to implement the current laws in true letter and spirit.
According to the current laws, every cigarette packet manufactured or sold must carry the Health Ministry's approved pictorial health warning, which was increased to 50 percent of the packet size on June 1, 2018, and it has been increased to 60 percent from June 1, 2019.
Sources said that the law highlights the word 'manufactured or sold' because the local markets are flooded with smuggled brands, which do not carry the approved health warning, but the relevant authorities especially the FBR and the district administration have failed to ensure that law is implemented.
As per Tobacco Advertisement Guidelines 2009, health ministry placed a complete ban on free sampling, customer incentives and cash prizes on sale of cigarettes to consumers, but most of the locally produced cigarettes are involved in such illegal promotion activities targeting youth mostly in rural areas. However, without any strategy to implement the existing laws, reducing tobacco consumption in the country is difficult while the health ministry seems to focus on formulation of new laws only to show the implementation of international obligations.
According to the details of the raids conduced by Inland Revenue (IR) Enforcement Network on illicit tobacco/cigarette trade (up to January 2019), within the jurisdiction of Enforcement Hub South 16.94 million cigarettes sticks has been seized by Intelligence and Investigation (I&I) Inland Revenue (IR) Karachi and 1.145 million Sticks seized by BTB Zone RTO-II-Karachi; within the jurisdiction of Enforcement Hub Sindh, 7.12 million sticks seized by I&I-IR Hyderabad; within the jurisdiction of Enforcement Hub South Punjab, 5.71 million sticks seized by RTO Sahiwal and 1.5 million sticks seized by RTO Bahawalpur; within the territorial jurisdiction of Enforcement Hub Central Punjab, 5.82 million sticks seized by RTO Faisalabad; within the jurisdiction of Enforcement Hub Lahore, 2.5 million sticks seized by BTB ZONE RTO-II Lahore and I&I-IR Lahore and 5.60 million sticks seized by RTO Sialkot and I&I-IR Lahore; within the jurisdiction of Enforcement Hub Islamabad, 1.37 million Sticks seized by RTO Rawalpindi and within the jurisdiction of Enforcement Hub KPK, 42.6286 million cigarettes sticks have been seized by RTO Peshawar.
The quantity of seized illicit cigarettes sticks clearly reflects hug quantum of non-duty paid and non-compliant illicit cigarettes trade in Pakistan.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019

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