Islamabad - rotesting the federal health ministry’s decision to grant extension in deadline to tobacco industry for increasing the size of pictorial health warning on cigarette packs to 85 per cent, civil society has called upon the government to go for plain packaging and sign the WHO’s Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.

TheNetwork for Consumer Protection released the message “Stop illicit trade of tobacco products” on the eve of the World No Tobacco Day in a gathering of tobacco control advocates here in front of National Press Club on Saturday.

Seemingly under pressure from tobacco industry, the ministry of national health services regulation & coordination (NHSRC) has twice delayed the implementation of increased pictorial health warning. The recent Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) says that 77.5pc of current smokers noticed health warnings on cigarette packages and 29.7pc of current smokers thought about quitting after seeing the warnings.

Participants of the gathering urged the government to take recently released results of GATS as an eye-opener and accelerate its efforts to enforce all the tobacco control measures as enunciated in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) including implementation of the Article 3 of the Protocol that aims at eliminating all forms of illicit trade in tobacco products. The protocol is in accordance with Article 15 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Article 15 of WHO FCTC regards elimination of all forms of illicit trade in tobacco products as an essential component of tobacco control and requires nations of the world to take measures to eliminate illicit trade of tobacco products, including smuggling, illicit manufacturing and counterfeiting.

A large number of health professionals, youths and tobacco control advocates gathered outside the National Press Club and celebrated the World No Tobacco Day. The participants had brought along families and children to celebrate the day. They chanted slogans against tobacco industry, advocating stringent laws on tobacco. The highlights of the evening, however, were presence of skulled mannequins depicting smokers who died prematurely due to excessive use of tobacco or as an impact of second-hand smoking.

Clad in patient gowns these mannequins of grownups (both male and female) and children gave a clear message to the world “kill tobacco industry before it kills you.” Each mannequin holding a placard in its hands was telling his/her story about the sorry tale of the mysteries of tobacco user.

The show attracted quite a large number of general public including pedestrians, motorists and media persons. The entire activity thus turned into a colourful music gala.

Besides mannequins, the participants were also holding placards, banners and pamphlets drawing people as well as the authorities’ attention towards health risks associated with tobacco use. They urged the government to introduce effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption.

Talking to media persons on this occasion, Nadeem Iqbal, executive coordinator of TheNetwork, said that according to recent GATS report launched on May 28, 2015 almost every 9 out of 10 adults consider smoking injurious to health but still 29pc smokers in Pakistan start smoking before the age of 17 years. This shows that smoking is not an awareness issue but a case of government failure in implementing the existing laws and strengthening their enforcement, he said.

Tobacco industry is having freehand in marketing as the percentage of smokers who noticed cigarette marketing in stores is 34.4 percent while around 42 percent notice it at places other than point of sale.

While 31.8 percent of men, 5.8 percent of women, and 19.1 percent overall (23.9 million adults) currently used tobacco in any form, the government failure in protecting non-smokers health is evident, Nadeem said, from the findings that 69.1 percent adults are exposed to tobacco smoke at the workplace. Of them 72.5 percent are male and 37.3 percent are female. Eighty-six percent adults are exposed to tobacco smoke in restaurants. Almost 8 in every 10 adults are exposed to smoking in public transport.

Another startling fact revealed by GATS is that healthcare providers once considered pro-active tobacco control advocates are also falling into tobacco industry’s trap. The health authorities have also failed to make health facilities smoke free. Only half of the adult smokers say they get advice from healthcare facility to quit smoking but on the other 37.6 percent including 32.8 percent women are exposed to smoke in a health facility.