islamabad - The powerful tobacco industry has used an ‘invisible wand’ and has started clipping the wings of Pakistan Tobacco Control Cell (PTCC) established in the ministry of National Health Services (NHS), working to discourage the tobacco consumption in the country, The Nation learned on Friday.

Sources said that senior officials of PTCC working and formulating the projects for anti-smoking awareness were restricted from their work.  Sources also said that a member of senate standing committee on NHS, senator Dilawar Khan had intimated the senate to stop the officials of PTCC from going to Geneva to sign the anti-tobacco treaty in the month of June. The PTCC officials were accused for being the employees of a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) working for tobacco control in the world.

“No official of PTCC or even the health minister can officially sign the treaty at United Nations (UN) as it is the portfolio of the foreign ministry,” a senior official said.  The official said that the ministry of NHS was asked to give in writing that it will not allow the PTCC officials to go to Geneva.  “It was only an act of victimization with the officials and the tobacco industry targeted them through political connections,” the official said.

Sources said that some of the officials holding political portfolio and linked with the tobacco business pressurized the ministry of NHS to control the activities of PTCC officials as it was harming the interests of the tobacco industry working in the country.  In June, World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) met at UN to eliminate the illicit tobacco trade from the world.  Pakistan though initially remained unsuccessful in securing a position in the first 40 countries of the treaty which would be able to influence the decision making body to control the illicit tobacco trade. However, later the caretaking government decided to ratify the protocol of eliminating the illicit trade as 41st member of the body.

 “Pakistan is the signatory of FCTC and it has to implement all the decisions made in UN,” said official.  “However, the people with vested interests are trying to crack the measures taken by PTCC to reduce the tobacco consumption in the country,” said the official.  The PTCC after a number of briefings at the standing committees and the NHA ministry remained successful in banning the sale of loose cigarettes in the market, as well as banning the sale of cigarettes to underage children, banning smoking in public places, and increasing the pictorial size warning on cigarette packs. 

Before the budget 2018, ministry of NHS following the studies of PTCC had written a letter to ministry of finance and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to impose heavy tax on tobacco industry to generate the revenue and specifically eliminate the third slab of cigarettes.  However, both the proposals were not considered by the then the government which was successful in damaging the health ministry’s efforts to control tobacco consumption in the country.  Ministry of NHS spokesperson Sajid Hussain Shah talking to The Nation said that the tobacco industry has always tried to pressurize and influence the work against tobacco control.  However, the ministry and its PTCC has worked to reduce the tobacco consumption in the favour of public health.  Sajid Shah said that the ministry was asked to stop the departure of PTCC officials from signing the treaty at Geneva but it was not a logical request.  “The ministry replied that the said officials are even not authorized to sign any treaty and there are certain rules and regulations for such agreements,” he said.  He also said that the ministry has always supported officials of PTCC to work and it has achieved a number of objectives with the work of tobacco cell.  NHS spokesperson said that every concerned official from its department is allowed by the ministry to attend the meetings anywhere as there is no restriction on them.