Islamabad - While the British government is moving one step ahead by introducing plain packaging for cigarette packs in its own country, it has different health policies for other nations exposing their belief that they do not deserve the same kind of protection that British citizens do. According to information, a delegation of the British American Tobacco, the parent company of Pakistan Tobacco Company, led by BAT Group Head Denato Del Vecchio British American Tobacco (BAT) met Federal Minister of Finance Ishaq Dar, Federal Minister of State for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Tarar and her team, senior officials from the Prime Minister office, Ministry of Finance and Federal Board on March 13. The meeting was also attended by the newly appointed British High Commissioner to Pakistan Philip Barton.Inside sources at the Health Ministry confirmed the participation of the British High Commissioner in the meeting as a member of the delegation. The sources revealed the delegation asked the government to take back its decision of printing graphic Health Warnings the size of which has been increased to 85 per cent of the surface area of the cigarette pack.Though, this reversal was not accepted by the health authorities who stood firm on their resolve to protect the people from the hazards of smoking. But considering the British government’s recent passage of a bill on plain packaging of cigarette packs one has to wonder about the presence of the high commissioner in the meeting and if Pakistani public does not deserve the same kind of protection that British citizens do.According to Coalition for Tobacco Control-PK, when approached Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Health Charity Action on Smoking and Health (UK) on this maintained, “If it is the case that the UK High Commissioner to Pakistan is lobbying the government on behalf of BAT beggars belief”. The UK published very comprehensive guidelines only a year ago, which state very explicitly that its diplomats must not engage foreign governments on behalf of the tobacco industry. To the contrary, the guidelines urge diplomats to encourage and support the fullest implementation of tobacco control strategies such as large pictorial health warnings, which indeed is a measure the UK government has already put in place, he said. “The United Kingdom’s guidelines for overseas posts are very clear that such posts should not engage in activities favoring tobacco industry.” Khurram Hashmi, the National Coordinator Coalition for Tobacco Control Pakistan (CTC-Pak) said. “We demand the British government to respond publicly on its motives by having its high commissioner to participate in this meeting and declare all British Government’s stakes in tobacco manufacture, sale and distribution of tobacco products in Pakistan. We shall be raising questions on the links between the tobacco industry and the British government in commonwealth countries at international platforms, including the ongoing World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH) inaugurated on the March 17. The British government is a party to World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), an international tobacco control treaty and participation of its high commissioner at such a meeting is certainly not based on transparent practices.”Hashmi further applauding the government for not giving into the added pressure to retract the notification by the Tobacco Industry through the British High Commission, re-affirmed its full support with the government for implementing new larger graphic health warnings on March 30.  Fouad Aslam, Technical Advisor with The International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease also said, “The Union and its international partners shall continue to provide technical advice to the government to pass effective tobacco control measures and stands firm with the health minister in her resolve for achieving full implementation of the tobacco control laws in Pakistan, including the graphic health warnings covering 85 per cent of the cigarette packs.”

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 20-Mar-2015 here.