Independence from Tobacco | By Khalil Ahmed Dogar


Independence from Tobacco

AUGUST 12 is celebrated across the globe as the International Youth Day to address the challenges concerning future generations and exploring ways to harnessing their potential for social development.

This year’s theme is “Inter-generational Solidarity: Creating a World for All Ages”. The Day calls for social action at all age levels to ensure that no age group is excluded from the developmental process, especially which has been defined under Sustainable Development Goals.

Pakistan has one of the largest populations of youth (under 30) citizens in the world. Unfortunately, this population group has been severely ignored in the country’s tobacco control efforts resulting in unprecedented levels of tobacco consumption among the youth.

According to the World Health Organization the number of smokers in Pakistan has reached up to 29 million.

A total of 10.7% Pakistani youth (13-15 years) indulges in tobacco due to cheap and easy affordability.

This means nearly 1200 children begin smoking every day in the country. This tobacco consumption makes them prone towards non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and chronic lung diseases.

Yearly, 170,000 people die due to tobacco consumption. Since becoming a party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005, Pakistan has strived towards safeguarding children from tobacco consumption.

Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers Ordinance 2002 bans selling tobacco products to children under the age of 18 and also bans sale of these products within a 50 meter radius of educational institutions.

Unfortunately in Pakistan tobacco control hasn’t gone beyond cigarettes and Gutka. Lack of implementation of 2002 ordinance aside; there has been no control efforts against the novel products ie nicotine pouches, e-cigarettes and vapes.

There has been no policy or legislation to control and monitor sale, promotion and advertisement of nicotine pouches.

Tobacco industry has claimed that these products are not tobacco products and they’re launched to help people overcome nicotine addiction.

It is medically proven that nicotine can cause serious threats such as cardiovascular disease and stroke and harmful changes in the development of the brain among children.

It is also to be noted that cessation products can’t be given without prescription; however, these products are openly sold in super stores, malls, grocery shops and online websites.

As a result of the open field, the tobacco industry has launched deceptive campaigns and profited from them.

One renowned company has specifically utilized youth icons such as famous musicians, actors and models for paid social media content and even launched their own music show.

The manufacturers maintain that the novel products are ‘Not for Sale to Children’ and yet these products are easily available nearby all educational institutions.

These are all indicative of the target audience the manufacturers are trying to reach i.e. youths and children.

The extensive online campaigns on almost all social media platforms are also proof that these products are targeted at youth.

The algorithms of advertisements are designed in such a deceptive manner that the ads appear even on those news articles and columns which are against tobacco consumption.

In order to counter the threat posed by these products, the government needs to immediately bring them under the umbrella of tobacco products.

Subsequently, there’s a dire need to adopt a sustainable National Tobacco Control Policy which must provide clear cut guidelines on guidelines provided by FCTC on taxation, health levy, graphic health warnings and smoke-free areas.

The policy should also aim at ending the tobacco industry’s influence in public policy making as it remains the biggest obstacle in Pakistan’s independence from tobacco.

—The writer is Programme Manager, Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, SPARC, Islamabad.


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