Tobacco: Major Threat to Public Health in Pakistan
Rs 1200 millions Tobacco Products consumed every single day in the country. At a briefing held on the occasion of forthcoming World No Tobacco day (May 31) health professionals from various organizations including MaxFoundation strongly criticized for Government’s failure to take effective measures towards tobacco control in Pakistan. They demanded that effective tobacco control measures be taken to save 100,000 lives lost every year in the country from diseases caused by tobacco.
World No Tobacco Day is commemorated every year with seminars held to educate the public on the serious health hazards associated with tobacco use. Anti-tobacco advocates also raise their voices against tobacco companies that promote and market the use of this deadly and powerful addictive substance. This year, the theme is ‘Pictorial Health Warning on Cigarettes Packs Saves Human Lives’ focusing on preventing people from becoming smokers by educating them through effective health warning on tobacco products. Over 50 countries now have mandatory pictorial health warnings on cigarettes packs, including India and Iran.
Pakistan, however, has only a very weak text health warning on tobacco products and this has been found to be ineffective in deterring smokers and potential users from taking up tobacco use.
Speaking at Karachi Press Club, Salim Mirza (Maxstation) of MaxFoundation said that more than 50% deaths from lung diseases are preventable if smoking is avoided. He regretted the government’s recent decision to allow smoking at public places. Referring to the damages caused by passive smoking, he said that smokers have a right to smoke but they have no right to destroy others’ health from their smoking habit. He demanded that in order to discourage people from taking up smoking, the price of cigarettes must be increased in the forthcoming budget. Every day Pakistanis burn away over Rs. 60 Millions in cigarettes alone and an equal amount is spent on smokeless tobacco in the form of chewable tobacco, Naswaar, Gutka, Mainpuri etc. Health care cost of treating diseases caused by tobacco is huge and often unaffordable for the low-income class. Maxstation also regretted that the law calling for prohibition of smoking at all public places is not being implemented in the country. Research has shown that smoke-free policy is only effective if all indoor public areas are completely smoke-free. There should be a complete ban of smoking not only at all public places but also in public transport.
Mr. Asher Ali, Maxstation of MaxFoundation, said that tobacco is responsible for almost 50% of all cancer cases in the country, yet smoking is still being advertised on various shops as well as in youth magazines as something pleasurable, cool, glamorous and an adventurous act. Mr. Asher Ali regretted the indirect advertising of tobacco products through TV drama serials. He demanded a comprehensive ban on all forms of tobacco advertising as well as the ban on sponsorship of sports and other entertainment events, organized by the tobacco
industry. He urged the Ministry of Health to introduce effective health warning on all tobacco products including Shisha without further delay. He also emphasized that an effective tobacco control is possible through behavior change.
Dr. Aziz Khan Tank, President of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), said that tobacco smoke pollution (TSP) causes a number of diseases including lung cancer, heart attacks, pneumonia and exacerbation of asthma. Comprehensive smoke-free policies and their implementation improve health, motivate smokers to quit and help reduce tobacco consumption.
Speaking at this press briefing, Prof. Javaid Khan, Head of the Section of Pulmonary Diseases at Aga Khan University (AKU) Hospital and Chair, National Alliance for Tobacco Control, raised concerns on the rising trend of smoking in Pakistani youth. Quoting an AKU survey conducted last year, he disclosed that 24% of male and 16% of female college students of Karachi were found regular smokers. Shisha smoking rate of Karachi youth was even higher at 48%. (This is rising and becoming a fashion trend.) He said that Government of Pakistan is a signatory of Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and to this UN treaty the Government is committed to take strong anti-tobacco measures including a total ban on tobacco advertising and promotion, implementation of smoking ban at all public places and increased taxation on tobacco products in the country, but our Government is failing in its obligations.
Twenty-five GIPAP patients with their care givers were present at the event. Mr. Asif Khan – a young GIPAP patient of Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi – speaking on the occasion said that he was diagnosed with CML in 1993. Subsequent counseling by the Maxstation motivated him to quit smoking and he gradually started feeling much better. At the time of diagnosis, he was in Blast Crisis stage but now he is in Chronic Phase.
He said that health is the biggest blessing of Almighty Allah upon us and we have no right to destroy it by using tobacco or any other addictive substances. He added that various religious scholars from across the world including those from Al-Azhar University of Egypt have declared tobacco use strictly forbidden in Islam. He suggested that the Imams of mosques (prayer leaders) should educate society on the harms caused by tobacco in their Friday sermons.
In the last, the organizer Prof. Dr. Javaid Khan thanked both Maxstations of MaxFoundation for their contribution with the GIPAP patients group.