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Big tobacco companies are now so keen to admit smoking is harmful on their websites, that it is surprising how modest their subsidiaries can be in their advertisements. A recent advertising campaign for Park Lane cigarettes starkly illustrated this, as well as the futility of allowing the industry to influence tobacco control policy. The campaign included large scale ads in print media, as well as billboards, a medium that has become of significantly more interest to tobacco companies since the introduction of an embargo on cigarette advertisements on television before midnight.
Park Lane is made by Lakson, part owned by Philip Morris, and all the cunning of the western world’s largest cigarette maker was evident in the ads. Not only did they associate cigarettes with desirable names and images, particularly in the minds of young people who have money to spend, but minimised the statutory health warning to the point of uselessness. The law requires 20% of the space occupied by a tobacco advertisement to be given over to the warning. However, the government made the fatal mistake, against the oft repeated advice of health experts, of involving tobacco companies in framing the law. Not surprisingly, it failed to specify the size of the font relative to the space occupied by the warning.
The result is obvious. Tobacco companies allocate the correct proportion of the total advertisement for the warning, but leave much of it blank, printing the warning in such small font that it is barely legible. This is particularly true for billboards, where often it cannot be read from a distance. Pakistan has both signed and ratified the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), but has so far taken no practical steps towards implementation.
With the existing law as a precedent, and increasing evidence that tobacco companies believe they can maintain business as usual by, among other ploys, giving a little “help” to governments to draft their FCTC related laws, the prospects for reversing Pakistan’s tobacco epidemic do not look good.