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ISLAMABAD: An anti-smoking law had been promulgated in the country to discourage smoking in public places. It aimed at bettering public health but was never implemented as it should have been, and sources have claimed that not even a single case was registered under this law against any violator.

The ‘Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers Health Ordinance 2002’ includes measures to stop people from smoking in public. Officials from the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJCP) said that under the law, police were authorised to expel anyone found smoking in a public place, and the use of force, if necessary, was also permitted under section 12 of the ordinance.

They said that a ban had been imposed on cigarettes ads to discourage smoking and a notice had been circulated to place ‘no-smoking’ boards in government offices and public places.

Section 8 of the ordinance restricts the sale of cigarettes to people under the age of 18. Similarly, no vendor can sell cigarettes within a radius of 50 metres from any college, school or other educational institution. Violators of the ordinance can be fined up to Rs 1,000 and repeat offenders up to Rs 100,000. Similarly, violators of the ban on cigarette sale could be fined up to Rs 5,000 for the first violation and up to Rs 100,000 for repeated violations.

‘Public places’ were defined as playgrounds, public parks, restaurants, offices, cinemas, hotel lounges, waiting rooms, libraries, train stations, bus stands, stadiums, educational institutions and all places frequently visited by a large number of people.

Officials said that both people and police shared the responsibility of keeping the environment smoking-free. “People must take the initiative by lodging complaints against violators and the police must hold them accountable,” they said.

The reasons behind the non-implementation of the anti-smoking law have social, legal and moral dimensions. Dr Arif Chaudhry, a consultant psychiatrist, quotes social pressures and psychological reasons for the laxity. Citing a study report, he said that 95 percent of smokers had been reported to have started smoking in their teens. “So, if we check the number of adolescent smokers, we would be controlling the overall trend at a larger scale. Normally, parental negligence, persecution, premature puberty and a sense of deprivation can lead a child to resort to smoking. One observes that street children are usually more prone to tobacco addictions, and parental patronage and constant vigilance greatly reduces the risk of this negative trend among children,” he said.

Another factor, he said, was the lack of recreational facilities and healthy leisure activities. “We don’t have any children’s clubs or health clubs. Our libraries are deserted and there aren’t sufficient playgrounds for the children, which is in stark contrast to international standards of town planning. The lack of healthier diversions lead our children towards smoking and fuel this negative tendency,” he said.

Talking about the legal aspects of the non-implementation of the ban, Justice (r) Tariq Mahmood, former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, said, “Violations of the anti-smoking law reflected the disregard and disrespect for rules that prevailed in the country. “Implementation is the direct responsibility of law enforcement agencies.

Secondly, the procedure for implementing the anti-smoking law have not been properly publicised. Even I don’t know where to lodge a complaint and what the procedure is,” he said. Dr Jehanzeb Khan, a medical specialist from the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, blamed the government for not spreading awareness about the harmful effects of smoking. “The government cannot shift the responsibility from themselves by placing warnings that read ‘smoking is injurious to health’ on each cigarette pack. The health hazard posed by smoking should also be widely publicised. Unfortunately, the electronic media in our country has not been able to cope with this task. There are very few people who know that smoking increases the levels of carbon monoxide and nicotine in the human body, and as a direct result of that, the human sense of taste and smell also declines and other breathing problems ensue.

Similarly, women who smoke during pregnancy are at greater risk of premature or stillbirths. People should also be told that quitting smoking decreases the risk of several diseases, including lung, mouth and throat cancer, heart disease, ulcers, chronic lung diseases and respiratory complications. The body begins to heal itself rapidly after one quits smoking,” Dr Khan said.