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June 1, 2019

Smoke free cities project harnesses power of pulpit for tobacco control


June 1, 2019

Islamabad : For the first time in the history of tobacco control in Pakistan, ‘ulema,’ ‘mashaikh’ and ‘khateebs’ of Punjab incorporated relevant references from the Holy Quran and Sunnah in their sermons delivered on the last Friday of Ramazan, which also marked World No Tobacco Day this year.

In a concerted and organised manner, relevant information was distributed for dissemination among worshippers well ahead of time. The step was taken by the Ministry of National Health Services through its Smoke-Free Cities project, and with support from the Ministry of Auqaf and Religious Affairs, Punjab. The supervision of Punjab’s Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Syed Saeed-ul-Hassan Shah also played an enabling role.

“Rising above the inconsistencies of sectarian approach, the use of the pulpit and ‘darbars’ for public service is expected to have far-reaching impact on the minds and hearts of devotees and worshippers alike. Religious scholars and prayer leaders have all the ability to convince people not to practice harmful habits like smoking,” stated Dr. Minhaj-Us-Siraj, project director of Tobacco Smoke-Free Cities and Deputy Director General Health.

Dr. Minhaj said the World Health Organization’s definition of good health includes mental, physical and social well-being. “Public awareness messages were disseminated to all practicing Muslims who thronged the mosques on the last Friday of Ramazan. The adoption of a social approach to raise public awareness on the health hazards of harmful products is expected to have productive outcomes. The measure will not only create awareness among worshippers, but also protect our youth from indulging in risky habits like smoking, which kills 160,000 people in Pakistan every year,” he added.

Sharing data, Dr. Minhaj took pride in the fact that 223 public places in Islamabad have been declared completely smoke-free; these include public and private offices, restaurants, transport stations, police stations, universities and even public parks. Islamabad is the only capital of the world where public parks are also smoke-free. He added that the District Implementation and Monitoring Committee headed by the Deputy Commissioner of Islamabad has imposed fines up to Rs. 40,50,000 on the violators of tobacco control laws. “A total of 1,650 out of 1,700 vendors/sellers of tobacco products in the urban areas of Islamabad have been licensed by the Excise Department against an annual fee of Rs. 3,000.

Dr. Minhaj said, 175 awareness sessions on the hazards of tobacco use have been conducted over five years.” As many as 2,715 authorised officers were trained in these sessions; they included heads of all the 423 schools and colleges under the Federal Directorate of Education. We also arrange smoke-free cricket tournaments and family galas twice a year. Moreover, 60-70 patients attend the Tobacco Cessation Clinics at PIMS and NIRM every month,” he shared, adding that the Islamabad Model is being replicated in five districts of Punjab namely, Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sialkot and Rawalpindi.

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