A bill meant to restrict the use of tobacco, its trade and production for reducing high incidence of diseases caused by smoking has been back-burnered for a long time with the relevant officials blaming influential cigarette makers and growers for it.
The proposed law introduced in the provincial assembly in Sept 2016 has yet to be taken up by the house, whose many members, including the ruling PTI’s, are the beneficiaries of production, trade and manufacturing of tobacco products.
The proposed legislation seeking the creation of smoke-free public places and protection of people from passive smoking and tobacco-related ailments says the shopkeepers will be fined for selling cigarettes to people below 18, while its sale will be banned within 100 meters distance of schools and colleges.
The officials feared that the draft law, which was sent to a select committee of the KP Assembly six months after its introduction, was unlikely to see the light of the day in light of the influence of those related to tobacco business in the current political dispensation.
They said the government had assured growers that their reservations regarding the law would be removed by a select committee before the bill was approved.
The officials said it was a massive trade, especially in Mansehra and Swabi districts, were the main focus of attention of the multinational cigarette-manufacturers, which got the finest produce from KP.
The farmers argued that the new law would deprive them of their earning from the cash crop and that they would revert to the growing of opium if the government went for the proposed legislation.
They said there was an understanding that the bill would be tabled in the assembly for passage after amendments in line with the farmers’ demands, but it didn’t take place.
The officials said few members of the select committee tasked with finalising the draft law had tobacco-related businesses.
They insisted that both farmers and cigarette manufacturers had joined hands to resist the bill, which also proposed ban on the advisement of cigarettes.
Under the proposed law, the violator of the law will be liable to penalty of Rs1,000, which will be increased to Rs10,000 in case of repeated offences and caries three-month jail term or fine or both.
The bill called KP Prohibition of Smoking/Tobacco Products and Protection of Non-Smokers Health Bill, 2016, will repeal the federal laws, including the West Pakistan Juvenile Smoking Ordinance, 1959, (W.P. Ordinance XII of 1959); The West Pakistan Prohibition of Smoking in Cinema Houses Ordinance, 1960, (W.P. Ordinance IV of 1960) and The Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers Health Ordinance, 2002, (LXXIV of 2002).
The World Health Organisation, which provided technical support to the health department for drafting the bill, is also concerned about long delay in the legislation.
A representative of the WHO said his organisation wanted measures to restrict the use of tobacco products, including cigarettes, paan, gutka and naswar, and supported legislative matters taken by its member countries against its consumption.
The officials said tobacco was known as a carcinogenic agent and Pakistan being signatory to WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control 2014, was required to take steps for the control of its use.
Pakistan Chest Society, an organisation of chest physicians, has long been campaigning for the passage of the proposed law to protect the people from diseases like cancer, TB and asthma.