Tobacco Control Cell registers case against Philip Morris

In a landmark development, the Tobacco Control Cell has commenced legal proceedings against cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris Pakistan Limited for violation of binding stipulations concerning tobacco advertising.

Good precedent

Talking to Profit, Deputy Project Director of the Tobacco Control Cell Dr Ziauddin Islam said, “For the first time ever a police case has been registered and sent to the magistrate against any tobacco company on violation of tobacco control laws in Pakistan.” This case has been registered in Faisalabad and Dr Ziauddin said it would set a good precedent for future cases. However in this case, under section 11B, the first time offender would be liable to pay a fine of Rs5,000 with up to three months in prison, while subsequent offenders will be subjected to a Rs100,000 fine along with the three-month sentence. Unfortunately, multi-national companies have time and again indulged in practices that are in blatant disregard of existing laws and Philip Morris Pakistan Limited (formerly known as Lakson Tobacco Company) has taken it a step further by openly advertising their cigarette brand Marlboro, in numerous magazines with full page glossy adverts, promoting the brand in gross violation of SRO 882(I)/2007, issued under Section 7 of the Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-smokers Health Ordinance 2002, which states that with effect from May 31, 2007, tobacco advertisements will not be more than one square inch (with 20 per cent of this covered by a health warning).

Civil society action

It is learnt that the advertisement campaign in question cost Philip Morris approximately Rs50 million, in gross violation of law prohibiting just such an act. Yet authorities did not take appropriate legal measures till the transgression was reported by civil society activists. It is common knowledge that cigarette companies have been barred from indulging in advertising campaigns, something that even the common man is aware of. But despite the action, campaigners are dissatisfied with the Rs100,000 fine as “not nearly enough” to discourage such discourse. “This is a ridiculous penalty. It is unlikely to deter the company or set a viable precedent. The punishment must be stricter,” said an anti-smoking activist while talking to Profit. Interestingly, the worth of the brand being promoted by the company itself is in millions of rupees. The Director General of Health Services Academy and in charge of Tobacco Control Cell, Dr Asad Hafeez, earlier said he issued notices to Philip Morris Pakistan for illegally advertising cigarette print media so that anti-tobacco ordinance could be implemented. The Prohibition of Smoking in Enclosed Places and Protection of Non-Smokers Health Ordinance, 2002, governs multiple areas of tobacco control, including restrictions on public smoking, sales to minors, and tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. According to the Presidential Ordinance, “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, no person/company shall advertise tobacco and tobacco products in any media, in any place and any public service vehicle.” This makes the recent promotional advertisements by Philip Morris, a clear violation of these rules and regulations.

Poor justification

The Tobacco Control Cell in an issued statement, said, “It is the practice of the M/s Philip Morris International (PMI), Pakistan, to first violate the tobacco control laws, and then give poor justification on these violations. This company has already been served a legal notice on violation of Section 7 of ‘Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smoker’s Health Ordinance, 2002 by offering free incentives on tobacco products. On this violation, Tobacco Control Cell issued a legal notice to the company on 22nd June, 2011. To clarify the guidelines, the matter was again discussed in the Tobacco Advertisement Guidelines Committee. In this meeting, representative from M/s PMI, Pakistan (M/s Lakson Tobacco Company) assured to follow the guidelines. This means no more excuses shall be accepted.” When questioned over the effectiveness of the Tobacco Control Cell, Ziauddin said, “We are merely concerned with the legislation aspect, while the implementation and enforcement of legislations rest with law enforcement authorities.” Letters have been issued by Provincial Police officers of all provinces to ensure the implementation of tobacco control law in their respective jurisdiction.

Unconditional apology

In response to the blatant violation of law, Philip Morris Pakistan deemed it fit to tender an unconditional apology to the Tobacco Control Cell, citing that they were unaware that the law also prohibited the company from publishing adverts in magazines. However, it is clearly mentioned in the Presidential Ordinance 2002, that no cigarette manufacturing company will advertise in any media, in any place or public service vehicle. The law also stipulates that “tobacco advertising is prohibited in publications intended for young people.” Clearly the magazines where adverts were published had a significant youth target market as well. In their official statement, Tobacco Control Cell said, “Full page advertisements of Marlboro cigarette appeared in the following Newspapers: Sunday magazine of Express Tribune on 13th November, 2011, Sunday magazine Daily Times on 13th November 2011, Newsweek Pakistan on 11-18th November, 2011, Herald November 2011, Sunday magazine, Daily Times 20th November 2011, and Sunday Magazine Jang, 21st November 2011 and Sunday Magazine of Jang 28th Nov, 2011.” What is most unfortunate is that yet again, Philip Morris despite an unscrupulous violation of law will be allowed to run free, setting a precedent for other companies to follow suit.

Newspaper responsibility

While talking to a civil rights activist, he said “It is the responsibility of newspapers to ensure that such advertisements that are in blatant violation of the sovereign law of Pakistan are discouraged by print media.” He added that he was shocked to see leading stakeholders of the industry not reacting strongly, or refusing to print advertisements by Philip Morris.

pakistantoday.com.pk

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