The Federal Tobacco Control Cell is likely to become dysfunctional after the devolution of the Ministry of Health. This is in violation of the anti-tobacco law in the country, a high-ranking official in the ministry said on Saturday.
The official, on condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that “it is obvious” that the cell cannot survive without the ministry.
“This will give a free hand to the people. There would be no check and balance on the consumption and sale of tobacco products,” the official said.
“The tobacco lobby is very strong, there is hardly much interest within the Ministry of Health to strengthen tobacco regulatory process in spite of all the commitments made by Pakistan under The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC),” the official said.
He said there is a need to strengthen and streamline tobacco regulatory processes and not allow the tobacco industry an open field to sell its products. Otherwise deaths related to tobacco will increase.
Right now, according to National Coordinator, Coalition for Tobacco Control, about 100,000 people die from diseases related to the use of tobacco every year in Pakistan.
Sharing the cell’s background, he said it was set up in 2007 in the Ministry of Health and became a national focal point for tobacco control activities in the country.
The cell brought in new anti-tobacco regulations, like the pictorial health warnings, removal of designated smoking areas at airports and hotels, ban on promotion of cigarettes through free gifts to consumers, restrictions on tobacco promotion through electronic and print media advertisements and ban on manufacturing of small packs.
It also worked to ensure implementation of the existing laws including The Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers Health Ordinance 2002 and The Cigarettes Printing of Warning Ordinance, 1979.
He said Pakistan was obligated under the FCTC to set up a “national coordination mechanism” to implement tobacco control policies. It is a mandatory requirement under Article 5 of the FCTC.
Now who is going to do all this and more for curtailing the activities of “tobacco giants” in the country, asked the official.
Talking to The Express Tribune, a constitutional expert who has also served in the Ministry of Law, said, “International treaties, conventions, agreements on tobacco control and there implementation is an exclusively federal subject.”
“Without a focal office to implement FCTC, the government would never be able to fulfil its obligations under the international treaty,” he said.
Talking to The Express Tribune, another official in Tobacco Control Cell, asking not to be named said that many projects funded by foreign donors stand to be cancelled if the cell stops working.
The Tobacco Control Cell had already negotiated the continuance and strengthening of these projects with concerned foreign donors. These programmes aim at better anti-tobacco advocacy and awareness, assistance for drafting new laws, capacity building for enforcement, he said.
Dr Nabila Ali, a consultant with the Ministry of Health, said that she did not have any knowledge of the cell becoming “dysfunctional” after the devolution of the health ministry.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2011.