ISLAMABAD – “By upholding the first ever Australian law requiring that all cigarettes and other tobacco products be sold in plain packaging, the Australian highest court has set an example for Pakistan to follow,” says TheNetwork for Consumer Protection.

TheNetwork joins the international tobacco control activists in applauding the Australian government for standing up to the bullying of the tobacco industry and taking a strong and innovative action to reduce tobacco use, the world’s number one cause of preventable death.

The plain packaging law, which was enacted last year, will save lives and stop tobacco companies from using their packs to make cigarettes appealing to kids. The plain packages will be required starting December 1 this year.

Four companies led by British American Tobacco (BAT) had challenged the law, claiming it infringed their intellectual property rights by banning brands and trademarks from packets, and was unconstitutional. But the court rejected the argument by BAT, Japan Tobacco International, Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris that the law represented “an acquisition of (their) property otherwise than on just terms”.

TheNetwork called upon the government of Pakistan to follow the suit and protect itself from tobacco companies marketing onslaught as it has highest number of youth and poor that are the main target of tobacco salesmen.

The organization says that plain packaging will make the pictorial warnings more effective. Presently in Pakistan locally produced cigarettes packs carry pictorial health warning but it covers only 40 per cent of the area that is much less than the recommended at least 75 per cent on the front of pack.

“Adults and adolescents perceive cigarettes in plain packs to be less appealing, less palatable, less satisfying and of lower quality compared to cigarettes in current packaging. Plain packaging would also affect young people’s perceptions about the characteristics and status of the people who smoke particular brands.”

“Current pack colors and imagery can dilute the impact of graphic health warnings,” warns TheNetwork saying that unregulated package coloring and imagery contribute to consumers’ misperceptions that certain brands are safer than others. Removing colours from cigarette packs and misleading terms such as ‘smooth’, ‘gold’ and ‘silver’ would reduce false beliefs about the harmfulness of cigarettes.

If the Pakistani government and judiciary pro-actively replicate the Australian example, the plain packaging will further the efficacy of pictorial warnings. “For this they just need to pro-actively enforce the existing tobacco control laws,” said Nadeem Iqbal, Executive Coordinator of TheNetwork.

“Although, Pakistan’s tobacco control laws restrict mass media advertisement but the tobacco industries are showing their marketing aggression at the shops that are decorated with the promotional material. The point of sale advertisement can be controlled by effectively enforcing the existing laws,” he added.

The organization is monitoring point of sale advertisement of tobacco industry in 10 major districts of Pakistan. Its initial findings revealed that Point of Sale (POS) advertising is being practiced on 78 per cent Point of Sales (POS). An overwhelmingly 87 per cent of the shops are found to have been illegally selling tobacco to children.

Pakistan is obliged under Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to prohibit all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship that promote a tobacco product. Similarly, the national law, “Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non Smokers Health Ordinance 2002 follow the same spirit and ban all sorts of advertisement o tobacco use.