ISLAMABAD - Students and civil society activists held an awareness rally on Thursday demanded more taxes on tobacco to discourage smoking trends in students. The rally was organized by Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), Human Development Foundation (HDF) and Pakistan National Heart Association (PANAH).

The students of various schools, social activists, and civil society members participated in an awareness rally in D-Chowk. The protesters carried banners, posters and placards inscribed with slogans. Addressing to the protestors Sajjad Ahmad Cheema Executive Director (ED) SPARC, said that the purpose of organizing the rally is to create awareness among children as soft targets of tobacco industry.  He added the sale of cigarettes to minors and especially near educational institutions remains a constant source of worry for parents in the country. Tobacco advertisements and youth-focused marketing tactics are one of the main tools of tobacco Industry to reach out younger consumers. He added that these tactics are increasing new tobacco consumers and are generating maximum profit for tobacco industry.

He referred to SPARC’s recent research report ‘Big Tobacco-Tiny Targets’ in which it was observed that around 1,500 youngsters have starting smoking every day in the country, which is a very alarming situation.  Further research explains that tobacco products displayed at tobacco sale points near schools are on children’s eye level (01 Meter) within the capital territory. “Eye level is a buy level for children; Display of tobacco products was 95 percent on the tobacco sales points within Islamabad.” 

He demanded the government to increase more taxes on cigarettes to reduce cigarette affordability; harmonize all taxes across tobacco products; and fully implement the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Tobacco Trade, particularly the measures for supply chain control, implement tobacco vender license, tracking and tracing of tobacco production and sales, align the Protocol with the legislation on prosecutions and sanctions for tax evasion. 

Protesters further demanded Pakistan’s health authorities to make reactive efforts towards monitoring and curbing tobacco to reverse the country’s tobacco epidemic.  Collaborative activities like anti-smoking education, introduction of tobacco smoke-free policies, increase in price of cigarettes, display of warning pictures and health hazardous pub smoking publically should be taken to discourage smoking. They also urged that new tobacco control legislation should be introduced which may include, a raise in tobacco taxes, a complete ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, creation of awareness among citizens regarding negative effects of smoking and implementation of tobacco control laws.

Participants also said that measures like development of a national coordinating mechanism, establishment of a federal enforcement committee, establishment of a technical advisory group, National Action plan for Enforcement, Provincial Tobacco Control Cells should be set up and with support for implementation of the Bloomberg Initiative Grants Program.