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Cigarette sales to minors ‘widespread in Punjab’

Cigarette sales to minors ‘widespread in Punjab’

ISLAMABAD: More than half the incidents of cigarette sale to minors occur in Punjab, while the province in also the worst offender in terms of allowing tobacco sale within 50 metres of educational institutions.

This was revealed by Khurram Hashmi, national coordinator of the Coalition for Tobacco Control (CTC), at the launch of the report ‘Stubbing it Out: Status of Enforcement of Tobacco Control Laws in Pakistan’ on Thursday.

Talking to journalists, Mr Hashmi said that in terms of tobacco sales to minors, 50pc of the violations took place in Punjab, 20pc each in Sindh and Balochistan and 10pc in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

Similarly, when it was considered whether cigarettes were being sold within 50 meters of educational institutions, 43pc of the violations were observed in Punjab, 25pc in Balochistan, 18pc in Sindh and 12pc in KP.

Laws regarding tobacco control are blatantly violated across the country, he said. However, he noted slight improvements, saying that both tobacco consumers and retailers were aware that smoking is injurious to health.

He also said that while there was political will to stop the use of tobacco, the economic interests of the government and the influential tobacco industry had become hurdles.

The report is based on a survey conducted in 20 cities in 18 districts across the country. The survey aimed to assess the enforcement of law and policies and the role of tobacco companies in weakening the enforcement of the law.

During survey, which was held over three months, not only was the overall situation observed, but over 600 people were interviewed. Moreover, complaints were also lodged to assess the administrative response.

In terms of implementing anti-smoking laws, Punjab was observed to be the worst, while enforcement in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) remained the best among all provinces.

When public service vehicles were surveyed, around 37pc violations were found in Punjab, 25pc each in Sindh and Balochistan and 12pc in KP. When violations regarding advertisement of cigarettes were checked, it was observed that 46pc of the violations were committed in Punjab, 20pc each in Sindh and Balochistan and 13pc in KP.

While no tobacco billboards were observed in Sindh, 50pc of all such hoardings were in Punjab, while KP and Balochistan had 25pc each. However, fliers were used to attract smokers in Sindh.

In the federal capital, according to the survey, cigarettes were being sold under the counter rather than being put on display. Traders were aware that they had to obtain licenses under the Tobacco Vendor Act 1958 and it was observed that heavy fines were imposed on shops and even licences were cancelled.

Restaurants in the federal capital don’t allow smoking within their premises and if caught, smokers are fined. Around 131 public places were designated as “Tobacco Smoke Free” and 85pc of all tobacco shops were removed from near educational institutions.

The report recommends a national action plan should be made to eradicate the menace, as well as calling for the establishment of provincial tobacco control cells. The report suggests that monitoring should be done at provincial and district level through task forces and civil society should also be included in the watch committees.

Mr Hashmi said that, during survey, when complaints were lodged, it was observed that the district administrations of small cities was more reactive and in big cities the response was not up to the mark.

“However it was observed that the behaviour of the people has changed and if someone tells them not to smoke in a public place, they listen rather than arguing. In small cities, traders don’t have awareness that they cannot sell cigarettes to minors. Apart from Islamabad, traders don’t know that they need licences to sell cigarettes,” he said.

He said that funding was required, by the government, to discourage the smoking as it was becoming a major cause of cancer. He also suggested increasing tax on cigarette packets.

Ministry of Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD) Director General and Project Director of ‘Tobacco Smoke Free Capital’ Dr Minhaj-us-Siraj said that there was a need for more local research. Due to the non-availability of local data, this report will be helpful for quoting at different forums, he said.

“I suggest that the model of Islamabad regarding tobacco control should be replicated in different districts,” he said.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2017

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