Innovative solutions for a smoke-free future in Pakistan | By Dr Abdul Rahman Nasir


Innovative solutions for a smoke-free future in Pakistan

PAKISTAN is grappling with a massive problem of smoking as the number of tobacco users in the country has surged past 31 million. This has resulted in an alarming number of deaths per day, with 466 people succumbing to tobacco-related illnesses like lung disease, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Smoking is taking a significant toll on the country’s economy, with the total cost of smoking in Pakistan estimated at a staggering Rs 615 billion, which accounts for 1.6% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). The burden of smoking on Pakistan’s healthcare system is immense and the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses is substantial. Taxing tobacco has been considered as a strategy to discourage smoking, but it may not be a sufficient solution to address the issue of smoking prevalence in the country.

The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) provides guidelines for tobacco control policies that are effective in reducing smoking prevalence. Pakistan can learn from the success stories of other countries that have implemented these guidelines to reduce smoking prevalence. For instance, the United Kingdom has set a goal of becoming smoke-free by 2030 by employing tobacco harm reduction strategies. Tobacco harm reduction works by facilitating adult smokers to quit smoking or switch to less harmful options.

Nicotine creates dependence, which keeps people smoking, but almost all disease risks associated with smoking arise from the smoke inhaled from burning tobacco. Satisfactory alternatives to cigarettes that provide nicotine without the smoke can help smokers avoid most of the disease risk. Nicotine is addictive but not carcinogenic, while tar and other toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke cause disease and death. Providing satisfactory alternatives to cigarettes can help adult smokers avoid risking their health and life blatantly.

The Pakistani government must prioritize the implementation of tobacco control policies, including measures such as raising taxes on tobacco products, banning tobacco advertising, and promoting smoke-free environments. However, it is equally important to explore innovative solutions to help smokers quit smoking and reduce their exposure to harmful tobacco products. One potential solution is to provide access to alternative nicotine delivery products, such as electronic cigarettes or nicotine gum, which are less harmful than combustible cigarettes. These products provide a source of nicotine without the harmful smoke produced by traditional tobacco products.

The government could also consider subsidizing less harmful products to make them more accessible to smokers. It is also important to engage local NGOs, media, doctors, and smokers themselves in efforts towards a smoke-free future. NGOs can help in raising awareness about the health risks of smoking and promote smoking cessation programs. The media can play a role in changing social norms around smoking and promoting tobacco control policies. Doctors can provide smoking cessation counselling and support to patients. Smokers themselves can be a powerful force for change, by sharing their personal experience with quitting smoking and advocating for tobacco control policies.

—The writer is passionate social issue writer, based in Bahawalpur.

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