A cigarette manufacturer has placed an unconditional apology to the Tobacco Control Cell for printing attractive advertisements of its cigarette brands in print media and magazines with the commitment to avoid serious violation of the ‘The Prohibition of Smoking in Enclosed Places and Protection of Non Smokers’ in future.
Sources told Business Recorder here on Wednesday that on November 22, 2011 the Executive Director, Health Services Academy, and in-charge of Federal Tobacco Control Cell ultimately decided to take some enforcement actions against the violators.
The Executive Director issued a formal detailed show-cause notice to the company to explain, within seven days of the receipt of the notice, why they were advertising cigarettes in violation of anti-tobacco rules.
According to sources in Tobacco Control Cell, the company has now submitted its reply to the said show-cause notice to the Cabinet Division and the Health Services Academy.
The said tobacco company has accepted patent illegality and violation of government rules and guidelines, and has also tendered an unconditional apology and given a guarantee that such print media campaigns will not be repeated.
Sources said that the civil society has urged the government to implement the Ordinance ‘The Prohibition of Smoking in Enclosed Places and Protection of Non Smokers’, and asked to take legal action against the cigarette manufacturer for publishing promotional advertisements in the media.
Sources said that the recent promotional blitz launched by a company by placing attractive advertisements for its cigarette brands in some sections of the print media and magazines has been termed illegal by Tobacco Control Cell working under health services academy.
According to tobacco advertisement guidelines issued by the government, cigarettes ads in the press should not exceed one square inch with 20 percent of its dedicated to health warning, virtually prohibiting such print advertisements.
In spite of the fact that these advertisements ran for two weeks in complete disregard of the law, the relevant authorities had failed to take any action on their own.
It were civil society organisations that brought the relevant authorities out of their slumber and demanded action by the authorities, even threatening taking the matter to the higher courts, if the authorities failed to stop such illegal activities.
Now the civil society awaits the action taken by the Health Services Academy over this illegal promotional campaign and admitted illegality by the multinational tobacco company.
Sources close to the affairs said that the units try to use influence over the Health Services Academy for not taking any action against them.
Efforts are underway to create some form of situation where the matter will be hushed up and forgotten altogether.
This just shows that the relevant authorities do not feel the courage to take any action when a multinational is involved.
Dr Javed Khan, Head of Pulmonary Medicine, Aga Khan Medical College Karachi, and Chairman of National Alliance for Tobacco Control, when contacted, stated that the illegality must not be allowed to be settled by a mere apology, even if unconditional, but strict legal action under the law must be initiated against the management of tobacco companies for such illegal advertisement campaigns which attract the youth.
He also stated that the situation becomes grave as more than 1,200 young children pick up the habit of smoking in Pakistan every day; while the use of Sheesha and other smokeless tobacco products, like Gutka and Naswar, is also increasing among the youth.
The use of products made by tobacco and betel leaf is one of the prime factors for the incidence of oral cancer in the country, which is as high as 40 percent.
Dr Sania Nishtar, President of Heartfile, said that this also highlights the need to have a proper and functional Federal Tobacco Control Cell which properly monitors the activities of the tobacco industry and which can keep an effective check on any violations.
She said, “This is also an issue of governance of health related matters which need proper attention.
The Health Services Academy needs proper structure and staff to perform its functions efficaciously”.
Feeling concerned over the delay in legal action against the company, a civil society organisation–The Network for Consumer Protection–has already filed an application in Islamabad’s Margalla Police Station for registration of a case against the tobacco company on the charges of violating anti-tobacco law and indulging in an illegal practice.
When contacted, official of The Network said that authorities should take immediate action against the company for resorting to an illegal practice; otherwise, the civil society will be constrained to think that these multinational companies are more powerful and resourceful than the government authorities.