Estimates made by the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS), Regulations and Coordination, show that more than 1,200 children between the ages of five and 15 start to smoke in Pakistan, on a daily basis. While the legal age of smoking in the country stands at 18 years, there are at least 20 million under-aged or minor smokers in the country, a statement revealed according to The Express Tribune.
Parliamentary Secretary of NHS Dr Nausheen Hamid said that according to a 2017 World Health Organization (WHO) report, more than 163,000 people die from tobacco use in Pakistan each year.
“This health burden is particularly affecting the youth population. About 1,200 children between the ages of six and 15 start smoking in Pakistan every day,” she said. She went on to add that despite a stringent tobacco control framework, Pakistan has made very little progress against smoking due to little or no enforcement on these policies on ground. A high number of unregistered or unregulated cigarette brands are known to carry out their promotional activities, branding and merchandising openly at shops and other points-of-sale.
These illegal and unregulated cigarettes are sold from anywhere between Rs25 to Rs30 for a pack of 20 which makes it affordable for both the youth and the low-income segments of the population to smoke. A number of tactics have also been put into place by these brands including handing out free samples, providing discounts and giving out prizes and lucky draws all of which are a very easy way to target a young clientele. To make things worse, unregulated tobacco manufacturers are also distributing free cigarette packets near locations highly frequented by youngsters, including educational institutes, parks, sports facilities etc.
Such practices are in violation of the Statutory Regulatory Orders laid out in the legislation that clearly prohibit cash rewards on smoking (SRO 53(KE)/2009) and put constraints on using people including celebrities, animals and sports elements on cigarette packs and restrict advertising of tobacco products (SRO 1086(I)2013). The government and FBR have also put into practice that a pack price of cigarettes may contain no less than 20 cigarettes and must not sell at a price lower than Rs62.76.
Ties of influential unregulated cigarette manufacturers however, has meant that these regulations are not being put into place or being practiced. Illegal cigarette producers also under-report production and pay little to no taxes.