Islamabad – Researchers, anti-tobacco activists, doctors, lawyers and journalists in Pakistan now have access to a new online data resource on tobacco control.
TheNetwork for Consumer Protection, a consumer rights nonprofit, launched a tobacco control website, which includes a searchable database, at a press conference in Islamabad on Monday, a few days before World No Tobacco Day on May 31.
Nadeem Iqbal, the executive coordinator of TheNetwork, said the database provides general information about hazards of tobacco use, the history of tobacco control in Pakistan, national legislation for tobacco control and publications about tobacco use.
The tobacco control database also provides case law information from around the world which could guide lawyers and citizens in registering complaints against the tobacco industry for violation of local tobacco control laws, Iqbal said.
The prevalence of tobacco use among Pakistanis older than 18 years is 19 per cent and Paksitani smokers are predominantly male, according to tobaccofreekids.org.
According to TheNetwork, around 100,000 people die from tobacco-related diseases in Pakistan every year. Deaths due to tobacco use make up for around 15 per cent of all male and 1 per cent of all female deaths in the country.
Some of the data available on the website is derived from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other international tobacco control organizations.
Currently, the search functionality of the website does not return any results for different search strings. But Iqbal said the “searcahable” database is the first of its kind and it will be populated with more content in the near future, he said.
Pakistan has a tobacco control law — Prohibition of Smoking & Protection of Non-smokers Health Ordinance 2002 — but its implementation is weak, Iqbal said.
The law prohibits smoking and use of tobacco indoors and in public transport. It also restricts the advertisement, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco. Violators can be fined up to Rs2,000 for a first-time offence and up to Rs100,000 for a second-time offence, Iqbal said.
“Smoking should not be considered as an issue of morality, we should treat as an enforcement-of-the-law issue,” Iqbal said. “Unless people who are exposed to second-hand smoke lodge complaints, there will be no redress.”
Direct tobacco use kills nearly five million each year and second-hand smoke increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases for non-smokers, according to WHO.
The theme for World No Tobacco Day is “Ban Tobacco Advertising, Promotion and sponsorship (TAPS)”. Iqbal said TheNetwork will launch a report on May 31 which it has prepared based on the monitoring of TAPS and Point of Sale (POS) advertising in Islamabad and 10 district of Punjab.
Dr Sobia Faisal, project director of the Tobacco Control project at TheNetwork, said tobacco consumption can be reduced 7 to 16 per cent just by blocking tobacco advertisements.
POS advertisements, however, have increased in the recent past, Iqbal claimed.
He said vendors across Pakistan are selling cigarettes and tobacco products without licenses, in violation of the Tobacco Vendors Act of 1958. Cigarettes are also being sold at numerous places near schools in violation of Pakistani tobacco control law, he said.
He appreciated the joint-initiative by the federal government’s Tobacco Control Cell (TCC) and the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration to make Islamabad a model tobacc0-free city.
As part of the efforts, the ICT administration has raided and fined several cafeterias offering sheesha to customers and registered cases against shops that were in violation of TAPS regulations.
Responding to a question, Aasma Qamer, the communication officer of TheNetwork, said the organisation had also recommended the government to regulate Big Tobacco and encourage tobacco farmers to cultivate other crops on their land so they can make a smooth transition away from tobacco without hurting their livelihoods.
The tobacco control website can be accessed at www.tobaccocontrol.org.pk