Senators oppose bill to ban tobacco ads ISLAMABAD: Members and the chair of the Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services (NHS) on Tuesday said they were not in favour of a bill for banning tobacco advertisements and expressed sympathy with tobacco companies, growers and retailers.
Chaired by Senator Sajjad Hussein Turi, the meeting was held at federal lodges to discuss ‘The Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers Health (Amendment) Bill, 2016’.
The bill, tabled by PML-Q Senator Mushahid Hussein Syed, calls for a ban on tobacco advertisements. It also wants retailers to be stopped from putting tobacco advertisements inside their shops as they could entice the youth.
Parliamentarians argue tobacco companies contribute to economy
According to the bill, tobacco companies will not be allowed to sponsor health camps, plantation campaigns and sport and other events.
During the meeting, a representative of the All Pakistan Cigarette Retailer Association, Haji Mohammad Yousuf, said retailers will lose their identity if advertisements for tobacco companies were banned.
“Business for smuggled cigarettes will increase which will also cause the state financial loss. Shops will also not be renovated by tobacco companies as they are now,” he argued.
PTI Senator Nauman Wazir Khattak said that some NGOs were working against the tobacco industry, which is contributing Rs135 billion in tax revenues to the country’s economy.
Senator Khattak explained that 99pc of Rs135 billion in taxes is paid by two tobacco companies which have a 65pc share of the tobacco market and the rest of the companies which make up for 35pc of the market pay 1pc of the taxes.
He suggested that a meeting between major tobacco companies, the Federal Board of Revenue and the committee be arranged.
The PTI senator then asked how some cigarettes were being sold for Rs26 when the minimum tax on 20 cigarettes was Rs44. He declared the bill ‘discriminatory’ and said it was drafted by NGOs and will allow for easily pressuring tobacco companies.
Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq, who is the prime minister focal person on polio and also works on health issues, was also not in favour of the bill.
She argued that NGOs claims of children noticing advertisements is vague and said that this in does not prove that they take up smoking due to the advertisements. She said laws already exist for this problem and that awareness campaigns should be launched instead of making new legislation.
This was seconded by Dr Ashok Kumar, who belongs to the National Party. He also said NGOs should launch an awareness campaign instead of trying for new legislation.
“Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is affected by terrorism and if people were stopped from growing tobacco, they will have nothing to do. The smaller provinces are affected by measures like these,” he said,
MQM Senator Ateeq Sheikh also said that laws against tobacco already exist and that there is no need for making new laws.
PML-N Senator Kalsoom Parveen said that the people who used to grow poppies before were told to grow tobacco and that they should not be stopped from this now.
The chairman of the committee then said that instead of trying to stop tobacco companies, they should be encouraged to participate in health care activities.
Secretary of the NHS ministry, Ayub Sheikh tried defending the bill and referred to data which said that 300 people die each day of tobacco related illnesses. However, other members including Dr Kumar asked him to show proof for the authenticity of the data and asked for the same to be submitted in the committee.
Mr Sheikh said that the aim of the bill was to ensure that the new generation is not enticed by tobacco advertisements.
“Every day 1,200 children of between the ages of 12 and 15 take up smoking and non-communicable diseases are increasing across the country. It is a fact that children are affected by tobacco advertisements,’ he added.
And though the committee allowed a representative of tobacco retailers to present his arguments, Nadeem Iqbal, the head of The Network for Consumer Protection which is the NGO which had assisted in drafting the bill, was not allowed to make his case.
NHS Minister Saira Afzal Tarar, who was late to the meeting, suggested the matter be referred to the sub-committee after which it was decided that a sub-committee headed by Senator Nauman Wazir will be formed for the purpose.