Anti-smoking bill not finalised by NHS ministry

ISLAMABAD: While discussing a ban on smoking, National Health Services (NHS) Minister Saira Afzal Tarar claimed on Thursday that she had repeatedly requested the speaker of the National Assembly to declare Parliament House a no smoking area, but in vain.

Ms Tarar was speaking during a meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee on NHS, during which the Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers Health (Amendment) Bill 2017 was discussed.

The conversation began with a comment by committee chair Khalid Hussain Magsi, who said there was consensus across the country that people should not smoke.

“Tobacco should be banned in public places and there should be a complete ban on smoking in government offices,” Mr Magsi said.

If people still smoke in parliament, how can it be stopped in the country, asks minister

Ms Tarar responded that smoking could not even be stopped in parliament, adding that she had even raised the matter in parliament. “If people smoke in parliament, how can it be stopped in the country,” she asked.

Independent lawmaker Syed Ghazi Gulab Jamal remarked that the minister should not push to ban everything, to which Ms Tarar said he need not worry since naswar would not be banned in Parliament House.

PML-N’s Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani agreed with the minister, and said concrete measures had not been taken to stop smoking. “You are talking about smoking; in Sindh, people drink liquor on the footpaths and no one stops them,” he claimed.

Winding up the discussion, Ms Tarar said the NHS ministry was working on these issues, which was why a final decision on the aforementioned bill could not be made.

The bill aims to strengthen smoking laws in the country due to the high level of tobacco consumption in Pakistan.

The bill argues that there is no mechanism to implement the law, and suggests highlighting the names and addresses of authorised individuals so people may lodge complaints.

The mover of the bill, Dr Nikhat Shakeel, told Dawn that it was a perception that Pakistan made over Rs100 billion from tobacco. “However, the fact is that the people of Pakistan pay many times more on tobacco-related health issues. Moreover, people also get cancer and other diseases, due to which they die early and spend lots of money as they learn about these diseases in the last stages,” she said.

She said the bill suggested highlighting the contact information for authorised individuals who could take action against the violation of smoking laws in the event of a complaint.

“It is suggested that loose cigarettes should not be sold because the practice makes it affordable for teenagers to purchase cigarettes, which is why a large number of teenagers start smoking,” she added.

In response to a question, Dr Shakeel agreed that the tobacco industry is very powerful, and becomes an obstacle in the passage of tabled bills regarding tobacco.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2017

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