Tobacco Industry Lobbyists Continue to Influence Govt Policies Against Smoking

The Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) decided to increase the pictorial warning on the cigarette packs from 40 percent to 85 percent, however, the Prime Minister’s Office directed the ministry to increase the warning only by 10 percent.This decision was taken by the Prime Minister’s office after a meeting with the representatives from Philip Morris International (PMI).

The top government officials are divided on how to enlarge the pictorial warning on cigarette packets. The NHS is against the decision taken by the PM’s office saying that the government is taking the wrong side in the global efforts to discourage smoking.

Previously, the ministry had already announced to increase the size of the pictorial health warning on cigarettes packs from 45 percent to 85 percent but there was no implementation of this decision. The government formed an inter-ministerial committee to decide the issue which was opposed by the powerful tobacco industry lobbyists.

PMI Vice President US and International Corporate Affairs Jon E. Huenemann wrote a letter to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. He appreciated the role of the inter-ministerial committee which was responsible for making the decision related to the increase in health warning on cigarette packs. He requested the PM to implement the committee’s decision in increasing the pictorial warning.

Director South Asia for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Vandana Shah said that companies like PMI want to stop countries like Pakistan in decreasing the number of smokers. She said that the PMI will oppose every policy which might discourage people from smoking.

She further added that

The latest attempt from PMI to influence Pakistan’s decision to implement large, lifesaving warning labels on tobacco products is part of a global strategy used by tobacco giants concerned only with selling more cigarettes, especially in low and middle-income countries.

Minister NHS, Saira Afzal Tarar said the Prime Minister’s Office said, “Our stance is very clear, which is that the pictorial health warning should be increased from 40 to 85pc. Other countries have implemented the recommendations of FCTC and we cannot go against the world. The matter has been included in the agenda for the federal cabinet meeting scheduled for [Thursday] and we will call for increasing the warning up to 85pc without delay.”

Government is failing to implement the law that shopkeepers can’t sale to citizens under the age of 18. Government and law enforcing agencies should implement this law so that no underage citizen can buy cigarettes.

Earlier this year, a survey conducted in Islamabad found out that there had been an increase in the drug usage in various educational institutes. The government should increase the tax on the cigarettes so that people are discouraged to buy expensive cigarettes.

The powerful influence of the lobbyists from tobacco industry is clear and can be seen by government decisions over the years across the globe.