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66.7% smokers, 53.3% vapers see no change in smoking habit because of Covid-19

May 03, 2020

Islamabad : Smokers faced no difficulty in access to and availability of cigarettes during the lockdown in Pakistan’s 11 districts, though some hinted at quitting or reducing smoking because of COVID-19, reveals a rapid assessment survey conducted by the Pakistan Alliance for Nicotine and Tobacco Harm Reduction (PANTHR).

The qualitative assessment on the impact of Covid-19 on combustible smoking and vaping in Pakistan’s 11 districts—Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Abbottabad, Multan, Sialkot, Faisalabad, and Quetta—was conducted from April 8-21. All study respondents, smokers and vapers, were male and young, mostly between 18-35 years of age.

Apart from 76.7% smokers reporting easy availability, 91.7% bought cigarettes during the shutdown. However, availability of vaping products remained restricted. Only a little less than one-third vapers (31.7%) said vaping products were available to them; 51.7% bought vaping products during the lockdown.

One-fifth (20%) of the smokers in the 11 districts said they thought about switching to vaping to reduce the risk of getting Covid-19.

In addition, 41.7% smokers reported a decrease in smoking during the lockdown and 12% said they were close to quitting smoking because of Covid-19. About 11.7% vapers partially switched to smoking while 63.3% reported decrease in vaping and 23.3% said they were close to quitting vaping. Vapers (81.7%) and smokers (80%) continue to vape or smoke during the lockdown; 66.7% smokers 53.3% vapers see no change in their smoking habit because of COVID-19. Smokers seem to be more worried about the effects of COVID-19; 41.7% smokers and 33.3% vapers believe smoking and vaping increases the risk of getting COVID19; 76.7% vapers and 73.3% smokers did not stock vaping and smoking products during the shutdown. About 60% vapers and 66.7% smokers did not vape or smoke at home before COVID-19. During the lockdown, 71.7% vapers and 70% smokers decided not to vape or smoke at home.

Compared to 100 odd vaping outlets in Pakistan, cigarettes are available at millions of shops across the country. Along with easy availability, cigarettes are much cheaper than e-cigarettes and their associated products. Smoking cessation remains a weak link in Pakistan’s tobacco control efforts as the success rate of quitting smoking is less than 3%. An inadequate healthcare system, lack of a coherent smoking cessation policy, strong the influence of tobacco industry, and lack of awareness among people about health hazards of smoking are the main barriers to smoking cessation.

“Cessation has to be main plank of tobacco control efforts in Pakistan if we want to end smoking,” said Kashif Farooqi, coordinator of PANTHR.

“There is a need to work on the ‘offer help to quit smoking,’ which is part of MPOWER, a policy package intended to assist implementation of effective interventions to reduce the demand for tobacco, as ratified by the WHO)Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” he added.