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Following a protracted legal battle, Pakistan’s Supreme Court has upheld 2014’s law banning all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship – a victory in the campaign to reduce tobacco use. Implementation of this legislation had been delayed after a legal challenge from Philip Morris Pakistan.

The tobacco giant successfully applied to Sindh High Court for an interim stay order, on the grounds that the Ministry of Health Services Regulation and Coordination [MOH] did not have the power to implement this law after a constitutional amendment in 2011 devolving health to provinces. Last week the Supreme Court overruled, stating that the MOH has full powers to make this statutory order, as per the Anti-Tobacco Ordinance of 2002. The advertising ban came into effect immediately.

‘This ruling is a significant win for public health. The health of the Pakistani people has been prioritised over the business interests of a powerful industry that manufactures products causing more than 100,000 premature deaths here each year,’ said Fouad Aslam, technical advisor on tobacco control for the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease in Pakistan. ‘We must now build on this momentum and introduce strong new policies proven to reduce tobacco use and the disease and destruction it causes.’

At present the introduction of a powerful new law that would increase the size of graphic health warnings on tobacco packaging is being delayed by similar legal challenges. Pictures and strong words on the health harms of tobacco use will be displayed across 85 percent of the surface area of all tobacco packaging once this law comes into force.

‘This significant ruling paves the way for progress in other key policies proven to reduce tobacco use,’ said Dr Ehsan Latif, Director of The Union’s Department of Tobacco Control. ‘A ban on displays of cigarettes at point of sale should be introduced next.’

Pakistan’s tobacco control law is already fully compliant with some elements of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – including 100 percent smokefree public places. Significant progress has also been made on increasing tobacco taxes – the most powerful policy for reducing tobacco use.. But public health experts have had to contend with strong opposition from the tobacco industry.

Comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship are proven to reduce tobacco consumption – some countries reported up to 16 percent drops in use after bans were introduced. Find out more about advertising bans here.

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