Health experts believe that Cigarettes sold in violation of the laws are the biggest threat to public health and causing a hike in prevalence of Non-Communicable diseases including cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer.
Alarmingly; the poor and low-income groups are easy prey for these illegal cigarettes, who are already deprived of health and medical care.
“Effective legislation to reduce public health risks from smoking has so far failed to deliver lasting results due to companies selling illegal cigarettes in the country,” said Dr. Shazli Manzoor, Consultant Internal Medicine, Medical Director, Kulsum International Hospital.
He said that the government has made vital laws to curb smoking including, imposition of heavy taxes on cigarettes, pictorial health warnings, complete ban on promotion of cigarettes and sale of cigarettes to minors.
“However, every law is being violated openly and there is no one to take notice,” he said while adding that almost half of the cigarettes sold in Pakistan are illegal.
He said that the Government has set a minimum price of Rs.63 per pack but a pack of illegal cigarettes is being sold as low as Rs. 20.
“It is easy for the government to apply these laws to the regulated and tax-paying tobacco industry but the illegal sector is violating every anti smoking law,” he opined.
According to the Federal Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease are collectively responsible for 68% of all deaths in Pakistan.
Illegal cigarette companies are luring young people to cigarettes through cigarette advertising, reward schemes and the sale of loose cigarettes at low prices. NCDs are causing 51% of total burden of diseases, mostly in young age group.
It is pertinent to mention that a letter had been written by NHSRC to Police Chiefs of all provinces, couple of months earlier to ensure to strict implementation of Anti-Smoking and Non-Smoking Health Protection Ordinance 2002. The letter highlighted that every hour, 50 young people and children under the age of 6 to 15 are attracted to smoking in Pakistan.
It is very unfortunate that despite every initiative, the consumption of cigarettes is not declining and Pakistani’s are consuming around 80 billion sticks annually.
“The main reason for the government’s failure is the illegal sale of cigarettes in Pakistan, the volume of which is increasing rapidly,” he reasoned.
He opined that confiscating the properties and stocks of the makers of illegal cigarette brands will make health policy more effective.
He said that expanding the scope of action, stockist, dealers and retailers should also be brought under the purview of the law.