Govt agencies urged to end all agreements with tobacco companies

ISLAMABAD: The Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index (GTIII) has called for banning all tobacco-related corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities in Pakistan, saying the government agencies must end all agreements and memorandum of agreements with tobacco companies.

According to the index, “Conflict of interest of senior retired government officials who joined tobacco companies has been a problem in Pakistan along with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.”

Pakistan’s score on the index is 66 among 33 countries with heavy interference in tobacco industry.

The report termed tobacco-related CSR activities a “problem” in Pakistan. Although the report noted that Pakistan Tobacco Company (PTC) was able to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a few government agencies for joint CSR activities, it bemoaned the fact that there is no public access to information about meetings between government officials and the tobacco industry.

It also said that the government should require the tobacco industry to submit information on tobacco production, manufacturing, market share, marketing expenditures, revenues and lobbying activities. The index also wants a code of conduct for all civil servants on their interaction with the industry.

“Pakistan does not prohibit contributions from the tobacco industry or any entity working to further its interests in political parties, candidates or campaigns,” said Faraz Ahmed, Associate Coordinator, Coalition for Tobacco Control Pakistan, while sharing the findings of the report.

The index report said that progress has been made achieved in applying larger pictorial warnings on cigarette packs, but noted “the tobacco industry interfered to reduce the size of the warning by lobbying non-health departments.”

Waseem Iftikhar, senior researcher at the Sustainable Development Policy Initiative, said, “At present, there is no requirement to register representatives of the tobacco industry and related entities who are free to move within government departments and contact the officials at any time. This provides the tobacco industry with numerous opportunities to influence tobacco control policies. Policy developments related to 85pc enhanced Pictorial Health Warning on cigarette packs and raise in tobacco taxes, among other issues, have been compromised drastically despite the well intentions of the government due to industry interference.”

Khurram Hashmi, the National Coordinator, SAMAR, said, “There is an immediate need to register of all representatives of the tobacco industry, their affiliated organizations, and individuals acting on their behalf, maintained by the Ministry of Commerce and Board of Revenues in Pakistan.”

GTIII is based on publicly documented tobacco industry interference in 33 countries, including Pakistan, and their respective governments’ responses to these interferences for the period of January 2017 to December 2018. The 33 countries have been ranked according to total scores provided by civil society groups who prepared their respective country indices. The lower the score, the lower the overall level of interference, which augurs well for the country.

As a countrywide network of 267 tobacco control partners, CTC Pakistan provided the assessment for the global index on the tobacco industry interference and the government response in Pakistan.

Must Read