Wednesday October 27, 2021

No smoking

May 19, 2021

For too many years, the warning signs printed on cigarette packages sold in Pakistan have been ignored. Pakistan has one of the highest numbers of smokers or persons using tobacco-based products in the world, with 22 million persons over 18 using these substances including cigarettes, bidis, water pipes, sheesha and other similar means of tobacco intake on a regular basis. Over 15 million Pakistanis use tobacco daily, according to the limited figures we have. It has also been reported that many juveniles smoke despite the ban on children under 18 buying tobacco products and that nearly 50 percent of the population faces health hazards from secondhand smoke.

In this context, the decision by Prime Minister Imran Khan to withdraw from a webinar hosted by an international tobacco company on Covid in the region in which other heads of cabinet from countries across the region had been invited to take part is welcome. The decision sends out a strong message against smoking, and also fits in with WHO conventions that Pakistan has signed. It is imperative that leaders in the country play a part in combating smoking and the use of tobacco in multiple forms. At present, despite some campaigns, there are too many people either willing to risk their lives by adopting smoking as a habit or are oblivious to the risks due to illiteracy and the ignorance that comes with it. Over 32 percent of men and nearly six percent of women in the country are known to smoke.

The prime minister’s action has been welcomed by health activists, child rights groups and other organisations across the country. We now need further messaging from people with influence to help eliminate smoking, including the sheesha culture which has quickly gained popularity amongst young people, despite findings by institutes such as the Aga Khan Hospital about the very real dangers this presents. One sheesha pipe can equal smoking 20 cigarettes, according to these studies. At present, Pakistan spends 1.6 million rupees on diseases linked to the inhalation of tobacco. If this amount could be used for other purposes, it would save lives and prevent the slow, painful death that arises from lung cancer and other diseases. Nations around the world have worked hard to eradicate smoking. We must join them. The limited efforts made so far are simply not enough. Much more needs to be done, with bans on smoking in public places strictly implemented, so that smoking can be discouraged and people prevented from taking it up or becoming addicted to the substance which some health experts believe is more dangerous than any other addictive material as far as health risks and the cause of death go.