World No Tobacco Day (May 31, 2007)

ISLAMABAD: International Anti-Smoking Day will be observed across the world today (Thursday) to highlight smoking related health hazards and to create awareness about this nuisance.

In Pakistan every year the government and civil society organizations hold seminars, conferences and walks against smoking, but the violation of anti-smoking laws enforced by the government continues.

The government has not implemented these laws strictly despite the fact that a number of people die of heart disease every year. Smoking is termed a major cause of heart related diseases.

To discourage smoking and the sale of cigarettes to teenagers, the government promulgated the Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers Health Ordinance on October 15, 2002, which bans smoking at public places and on public transport. Later, the ordinance was enacted as a law.

Man SmokingThe ban on the sale of cigarettes to teenagers, in or near educational institutions, smoking in public transport, at public places, restaurants and even in government offices is being flouted with impunity.

Vendors and shopkeepers sell cigarettes to the youth to earn more money. They even express their ignorance about the law or any ban on the sale of cigarettes to the youth.

According to the law, the violators of the ban can be fined up to Rs 1,000 and on repeating the offense can be fined up to Rs 0.1 million. The public places include playgrounds, parks, restaurants, offices, cinemas, hotel lobbies, waiting rooms, libraries, railway stations, bus terminals, stadiums, educational institutions and public sites. According to the ordinance all these places will have no smoking signs.

Under Section 12 of the anti-smoking law, any competent officer or police officer above the rank of sub-inspector can force people off public property if they violate the ban. But since the enforcement of law neither the people nor law enforcement agencies have bothered to take it seriously.

Public transport drivers also express their ignorance about the ban saying that it was not their job to implement the ban, as it was the duty of police.

The law empowers any authorized officer or police officer ranked sub-inspector or above to remove any one from any place of public work or use contravening its provisions.

Unfortunately, the government itself is confused on the issue. On the one hand, it has plans to boost tobacco production in the country, which earns – in terms of sales and excise duty – Rs 31 billion annually, while on the other hand it recognizes the dangers of smoking to public health with its legislation banning the practice in public places.

According to the law, it is necessary that every pack of cigarettes should have a printed health warning on it. But smuggled brands are easily available in the markets even in Islamabad, which don’t carry this warning. The smuggled cigarettes caused a loss of Rs 1.22 billion to the government in 2006. Cigarettes are smuggled through Afghanistan, Iran and Dubai. These smuggled brands are easily available everywhere in Pakistan.

It is evident that the government has made a half-hearted attempt to enforce anti-smoking laws.

Smoking not only pollutes the atmosphere but is also injurious to health, which causes a number of diseases, especially related to the heart.

Smoking in public places and vehicles is adversely affecting many people forcing them to become passive smokers.

Source: Pakistan Daily Times

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