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City’s managers prepare to make Islamabad a smoke-free city

City’s managers prepare to make Islamabad a smoke-free city

ISLAMABAD: Tobacco is grown on more than four million hectares of land in Pakistan, which could have been used to grow food for approximately 20 million people. Though the health detriments of tobacco are widely known, health departments have not taken any concrete steps to discourage the production of tobacco across the country, perhaps due to the influence of the tobacco industry.

The situation is a bit better in Islamabad, the capital of the country with its residents more aware and more health conscious. The presence of World Health Organisation (WHO) officials has also played a role in the decrease in the prevalence of tobacco in the city. WHO officials have easy access to various areas and can move about freely in the city due to better security, compared to the rest of the country.

In Pakistan, the tobacco industry contributes to deforestation in many ways as forest resources are used in packaging tobacco, tobacco leaves and cigarettes. Roughly 30 million tree barks are used in packing the products, match sticks are made of wood and forest fires are started by cigarettes that are not put out.

There are an estimated 20 million smokers in Pakistan each of whom consume 4,500 cigarettes a year. Together, they consume 90 billion sticks and 4.5 billion packs.

In order to discourage young people from smoking, the Ministry of Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD) started a project titled ‘Tobacco Smoke Free Islamabad’ (TSFI) in April 2014 which applies to the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).

The federal government has made a significant achievement with the development of a letter of intent between CADD and the Higher Education Commission (HEC). Under this arrangement, the HEC has issued instructions to 172 universities in Pakistan to make their campuses smoke free. Of these universities, 27 are located in the federal capital.

Also, though the Tobacco Vendor Act, 1958 was made almost 60 years ago, it was never implemented in either East or West Pakistan and for the first time, a decision was made to modify the act according to new requirements and enforce it in the federal capital. This will make the city almost smoke free with the collaboration of the ICT administration.

The chief commissioner of Islamabad has approved increasing the annual fee under the Tobacco Vendor Act 1958 and issued instructions for strengthening ‘enforcement sections’ in tobacco control laws and penalty procedures specific to ICT.

It was decided that tobacco sellers have to get licenses and some 1,229 licences were issued in the fiscal year 2015-16 and 312 were issued in 2016-17 to tobacco vendors in collaboration with ICT’s Excise and Taxation Department, which has collected approximately Rs500,000 in licence fees.

TSFI Project Director Dr Minhajus Siraj told Dawn that the idea of making the city a smoke free one was new which was why it was decided to train and sensitise the staff first.

“Some 142 training sessions for authorised persons of various district departments were conducted with focus on mechanisms of implementation of tobacco control laws. These included 2,463 assistant commissioners, police officers, health managers, education managers, food inspectors, drivers and conductors, hotel and restaurant managers, public places managers and traders,” he said.

Dr Siraj said 131 public places were declared tobacco smoke free including the Chief Commissioner ICT Complex, HEC, Islamabad Traffic Police Headquarters, Capital Police Lines, Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan, Chaaye Khana, KFC, Centauras Mall, Safa Gold Mall, 25 major hotels and restaurants, 10 major public parks and the police stations of Islamabad.

“The staff of these facilities were trained, focal persons were nominated and proper signs installed on the premises. Because laws are made but not implemented, an online monitoring system was developed to keep a check. The project staff developed monitoring tools to monitor the implementation of tobacco control activities and the Tobacco Control Ordinance 2002,” he said.

Asked about the action to be taken in case of violation of the law, Dr Siraj said six ICT assistant commissioners had conducted 142 raids from Jan 2014 to Aug 2016 and collected fines worth Rs2.5 million for violations, that 72 hotels were prosecuted and 183 management personnel from hotels and restaurants were taken into custody.

“A raid was conducted in a rural area on Sep 3, 2015 and for the first time, a fine of Rs100,000 was imposed for the violation of the 2002 Ordinance and 14 people were arrested. After this, managements of restaurants and other places started taking the matter seriously,” he said.

According to the rules, tobacco shops cannot operate within 50 yards of educational institutions and the ICT administration has removed several shops selling tobacco products near educational institutions.

The Islamabad Traffic Police (ITP) issued 952 tickets for the violation of section 6 of the Tobacco Control Law, which prohibits smoking in public service vehicles. ITP has also launched a number of road awareness campaigns on the hazards of tobacco and tobacco control laws.

“CADD has also initiated tobacco cessation clinics at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences and the National Institute of Rehabilitative Medicine on May 21, 2015. More than 500 smokers visited these clinics and 32 succeeded in quitting,” he said.

All assistant commissioners and SHOs have been directed to mention on the NOCs for different events, which are required by the deputy commissioner, that the organiser will be responsible for providing a smoke free environment, failing which strict action will be taken against the organisers and individuals found smoking,” he said.

Dr Siraj said that the additional deputy commissioner (east) has issued letters to religious leaders to propagate the hazards of smoking and of tobacco control laws in light of Islam.

“Some 150 boards saying ‘Tobacco-Smoke Free Facility’ were installed in FDE-run schools, 300 ‘No Smoking Area’ signs were installed in public places and 10 were installed in parks. More than 60,000 stickers were put up in hotels, offices, public transport offices and other spaces,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2017

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