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As recent issues of Tobacco Control have illustrated, Pakistan continues to be blitzed by tobacco promotion, much of it from PTC, the local subsidiary of BAT (see Tobacco Control 2002;11:294–5). Despite both the quantity and type of promotions used, which would have been unthinkable in the UK—BAT’s home country—even before the recent advertising ban there, the company has nevertheless been trying to present itself as socially responsible. Apart from its cigarette brand promotions, BAT has been running a series of newspaper ads apparently aimed primarily at opinion leaders, to try to position itself not only as socially responsible, but as vitally important to Pakistan’s economy. Some of the “achievements” boasted about in these ads include the planting of over 24 million trees, providing a mobile dispensary for treating 3000 patients free of charge every month, and educating young people at computer learning resource centres.
The government has given conflicting signals about whether it will act to ban tobacco promotion. Meanwhile, the prevalence of smoking is already more than 40% among men and 8% among women. Not only is there already a large market to play for, but with a burgeoning middle class and changing aspirations of women, cigarette companies must be slavering at the thought of the millions still waiting to be recruited. There is clearly still room in this expanding market for new brand launches, as Philip Morris’s subsidiary Lakson Tobacco demonstrated recently with its new brand, Wembley. Ads featured models who looked hardly out of their teens, adorned with the usual youth magnet trappings, such as mobile telephones and fast cars.
Not surprisingly, the results of so much tobacco promotion over so many years are already being seen in Pakistan’s cancer clinics and cardiovascular intensive care units. The hard pressed doctors who work long hours trying to treat the victims of this needless epidemic are now nearing desperation in their constant pleas to their government to take effective action.