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Civil society report unveils tactics of tobacco industry

Shops place cigarettes with candies and snacks, 14pc give free gifts on purchase of cigarettes, 89pc shops do not display ‘No sale to Minors’ signage

Islamabad: Fifty percent of the 500 shops surveyed in six major cities of Pakistan including Islamabad and Rawalpindi place cigarettes for sale together with candies and snacks, 14% give ‘limited time offers’ or free gifts on purchase of cigarettes, and 89% shops do not display ‘No sale to Minors’ signage.

This is how multinational cigarette manufacturing companies are systematically targeting enticing children as young as six years old to tobacco addiction as current customers die or quit smoking, reveals a national survey conducted by TheNetwork for Consumer Protection.

The findings of the survey, which is the first of its kind conducted in Pakistan to expose the marketing techniques of tobacco companies, were released at the launching of a report on ‘Monitoring of Tobacco Advertising, Promotion, Sponsorships (TAPS) and Point of Sales (POS) Advertising’ here at a local hotel. Tobacco manufacturers are exposed as employing aggressive marketing techniques including placement of cigarette advertisements on shops selling candies and chocolates, and directly outside the gates of primary and secondary schools throughout Pakistan. The survey was conducted in schools around six major cities namely, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi, and Quetta, where 500 Point of Sales (shops) of cigarettes were monitored.

The event offered a platform that called for adoption of a five-point ‘Charter of Action’ to safeguard Pakistan’s vulnerable school children from the malicious motives of the cigarette manufacturing companies. The charter calls upon the federal government to amend the Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers Health Act 2002 to comprehensively ban TAPS as per Article 13 of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which the government ratified in 2005. Secondly, it calls for the development of a strict official mechanism to ensure enforcement of the 2002 law for completely banning sale of cigarettes around schools and holding the multinationals accountable for its gross violations. Thirdly, it urges the government to ensure that shopkeepers selling cigarettes to minors are mandatorily booked and strictly penalized under the law. Fourthly, it calls upon local authorities to ensure that cigarettes are sold in packs of 20 and must not in lose or single sticks.

Finally, the charter calls for enforcement of Tobacco Vendors Act 1958 (that was legislated as part of the West Pakistan and was later adopted by provincial setups) by making licenses mandatory for retail sale of manufactured tobacco.

Supporting the initiative, Senator Nasreen Jalil called for a ban on tobacco advertisements in view of its serious implications on youth. “There should be a strict enforcement of existing tobacco laws to regulate the industry. It is unfortunate that laws are present but are not being enforced. It is an uphill task to control tobacco use and take action against multinational cigarette manufacturers, but we have to do it at every cost,” she said. Nasreen requested the courts to ensure enforcement of tobacco-related laws, and assured that the parliamentarians are ready for necessary legislation to control tobacco use and advertising.

I R Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan suggested that a national movement against acts of tobacco manufacturers should be launched with the participation of teachers, social workers, and other stakeholders.

The CEO of TheNetwork, Nadeem Iqbal, rejected the industry’s claim that it sells cigarettes to persons above 18 years of age only. Referred to a previous survey, he said, not a single shopkeeper produced the relevant license required for selling cigarettes at shops. “We have already filed a petition in the IHC for implementation of 85 per cent graphic health warnings on cigarette packs which is not being implemented by manufacturers,” he added. Nadeem also regretted non-compliance of prohibition of smoking in the premises of the Supreme Court and Parliament.

Earlier, Dr. Maria from The Network termed the egregious marketing tactics of multinational cigarette manufacturing companies as a clear violation of the law.

The ceremony also featured small children sharing their personal experiences about sale of tobacco products along side sweets and candies, etc. Bakar Raza claimed being attracted to cigarettes at a shop, which had prominently displayed tobacco products. Five year-old Alina Iqbal said many children are attracted to cigarettes in shops where red and blue boxes of cigarettes are placed with chocolate packs. Muhammad Rabi and Iman Javed objected why shopkeepers are displaying cigarette packs along side chocolates and candies. Laiba Akhtar recollected how a shopkeeper handed over a cigarette pack to her when she demanded one, without inquiring about her age or asking any other question. Mahir Ali and Ayyan displayed banners and chanted slogans against the tactics of multinational tobacco manufacturers. Mian Osama questioned why the government wants to generate revenue at the cost of the health of young people. Nayyab Shakir also shared his experience about sale of tobacco products to youngsters by shopkeepers.

The event was attended by senior officials of the Competition Commission of Pakistan, parliamentarians, and representatives of NGOs and civil society, all of who endorsed the need to stop multinational cigarette manufacturing giants from deceptive marketing practices and selling techniques which attract small children towards tobacco products at retail shops near schools.

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