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Making cigarettes out of reach of youth

Islamabad

May 21, 2020

Islamabad : Over 60 percent of Pakistanis are under 30, who are under direct threat of smoking as cigarettes are handy and cheap enough for them to have. Every day 1,200 Pakistani children are taking up smoking, Sajjad Ahmed Cheema, Executive Director, The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), had warned in a media report, citing some surveys.

A study by the Sociology Department of Quaid-i-Azam University found that the youth that take to drugs starts from smoking. Initially they start smoking in company of their peers and then they are unable to give it up. Despite a ban on sale of cigarettes on campus, they are readily available for university students as the cigarette makers have their own ways to do it.

Malik Imran, Country Representative of Tobacco Free Kids (TFK), is of the opinion that cigarette makers give lavish donations for public welfare projects but their hidden agenda through such acts is promotion of smoking, which is why their CSR activities are prohibited UN the agreements Pakistan has signed with the UN.

He said as per WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), Pakistan has agreed to enhance taxes on cigarettes so that smoking is discouraged and revenue is generated. He lamented that smoking giants get benefits in budget using different excuses like prevalence of smuggled cigarettes.

However, according to media reports a large quantity of smuggled cigarettes were found in an abandoned cigarette manufacturing factory. Developed countries put taxes on tobacco twice a year increasing cigarette prices but these cigarettes are available cheaply in Pakistan due to less taxes.

Imran said that last year, in response to this claim of industry, two research studies were jointly conducted by Human Development foundation (HDF), Pakistan National Heart Association (PANAH) and Fikr-e-Fardan Organization (HDF). Both the studies showed the volume of illicit trade of cigarettes is at 10% to 15% of market.

Azhar Saleem, CEO of Human Development Foundation (HDF), has expressed concern that the cigarette makers have sprung into action to get relaxations in the upcoming budget which is around the corner.

Due to smoking, Pakistan reports 166,000 deaths and receives Rs192 billion loss, Azhar has been quoted as saying citing some reports.

Cigarette is a curse in the hands of our youth and in the aftermath of coronavirus, ultra care is needed for human lungs. It is heartening to see that awareness against tobacco has become a priority due to constant effort of the aforementioned and other civil society groups.

Now we have an anti-smoking message even on electricity and gas bills. Precautionary messages appear in TV dramas and films about smoking. Youngsters hide their smoking habits from their elders and many smokers attach it with machoism.

There is a need for community mobilization against this health hazard but to due to shortage of funds mega initiatives are harder to take up in this regard. Enhancing cigarette prices will be helpful in curbing this menace in two ways. First, it will make cigarettes too costly for youth to afford it with their pocket money. Second, the funds that are generated this way will be used on crating awareness against tobacco.