Case Studies

Pakistan: Advocates and Government Partner to Hold Philip Morris Accountable for Violating Tobacco Control Laws

The Issue

In Pakistan, print media tobacco advertisements larger than one square inch have been banned since May 2007 under the country’s tobacco control law. Additionally, tobacco advertisements are also required to have graphic health warning labels covering 20 percent of the total area of the advertisement. Despite the advertising restrictions, Philip Morris Pakistan Limited (formerly Lakson Tobacco Company) purchased full-page, color ads for Marlboro cigarettes in many of Pakistan’s leading magazines throughout November and December 2011. The ads not only violated the law by exceeding more than the allowable size, but they also used text health warnings instead of the required pictorial health warnings.

Though the Pakistani government initially refrained from taking any action against Philip Morris Pakistan, tobacco control advocates pressured the Tobacco Control Cell (TCC), a government department responsible for implementing the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to file formal complaints at the regional level against the managing director and head of marketing for Philip Morris Pakistan.

Partners

The Society for Alternative Media and Research (SAMAR) partnered with the Network for Consumer Protection to monitor and report instances of advertising violations to the TCC. The members of the Coalition for Tobacco Control – Pakistan, led by SAMAR, worked together to encourage the government to take action against the tobacco company. The TCC received technical, legal and financial support from civil society and international organizations, such as SAMAR, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, and The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Strategies

  • Advocates executed a high profile media campaign (both in Pakistan and internationally) using traditional and social media to call public attention to Philip Morris’ blatant violations.
  • Advocates sent letters to the media houses that published the tobacco advertisement highlighting the violation.
  • TCC regional coordinators filed reports at local police stations against Philip Morris Pakistan.
  • Advocates worked with the TCC to file formal complaints about the ads in seven regions and supported the TCC by providing evidence and arguments about the violations.
  • SAMAR provided support to the TCC to prepare and file complaints, arranged for lawyers and the deputy project director of TCC to appear in the seven regional courts.

Outcomes

  • The Civil Magistrate of Hyderabad issued an arrest warrant for the Philip Morris Pakistan’s marketing executive in early February 2012. The filing of criminal charges against a tobacco industry executive for violating a country’s tobacco control law is a first in Pakistan and a milestone for tobacco control.
  • Philip Morris Pakistan, represented by the company’s managing director and head of marketing, was found guilty of violating Pakistan’s tobacco control law. As a first-time violation, a fine of Rs5,000 was imposed. If the executive violates the law again he could face up to three months in prison for each violation.
  • Herald Magazine, a popular English magazine with a large circulation, issued an official apology for the violation and promised not to publish tobacco ads in the future.