World No Tobacco Day 2013

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on June 1, 2013.

Islamabad – Around 5,000 people are admitted into Pakistani hospitals every day on average due to tobacco-related diseases and over 100,000 Pakistanis die every year due to smoking-related causes, doctors informed the public at a seminar on Friday, before advising smokers to either quit smoking or prepare for increased risk of diseases that could also prove fatal.

The doctors were speaking at a seminar organised by the Shifa International Hospital in collaboration with TheNetwork for Consumer Protection to mark World No-Tobacco Day.

The World No-Tobacco Day is celebrated annually on May 31 to raise awareness about the negative health impacts of the tobacco and to advocate effective tobacco control policies.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), tobacco kills around six million people every year, including over 600,000 non-smokers who die due to breathing second-hand smoke.

For 2013, the theme of the day is “Ban Tobacco Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship (TAPS).”

Health experts believe that stopping tobacco advertisements and sponsorship is the most cost-effective way of tobacco control. According to Dr Sobia Faisal, a project director at TheNetwork, tobacco consumption is reduced by an estimated 7-16 per cent just by banning tobacco advertisements.

Tobacco advertisements in print and electronic media are regulated in Pakistan, and there is a law to curb sale of cigarettes near educational institutions, but implementation of these regulations is weak as shown by a study done by TheNetwork.

TheNetwork monitored tobacco marketing at hospitals, judicial complexes, public offices, educational institutions, bus stops, public entertainment places and at over 2,000 Points of Sale (POS) — or shops selling tobacco products — in Islamabad and 10 other districts of Pakistan over 18 months.

The study shows that 78 per cent POS are advertising tobacco products and 77 per cent of POS are using “Power walls and Fascia” — walls and cabinets used to display cigarette packs —for tobacco advertising. TheNetwork’s study also found that around 87.4 per cent of the retailers were selling tobacco products to minor in violation of state laws.

TheNetwork representatives at the seminar said TAPS increases the social acceptability of tobacco use and makes it difficult to raise awareness about the health impacts of tobacco use. They recommended that district implementation committees should be strengthened to monitor violation of the tobacco control laws and committee on tobacco advertisement at federal level should be extended to the provincial level.

Dr Matiur Rehman, consultant pulmonologist at the Shifa International Hospital, said after the efforts to stop tobacco promotion in the developed world, the cigarette manufacturing factories have turned to the developing world. Around 70 per cent of the estimated 5.4 trillion cigarettes smoked every year are smoked in the developing countries, he said.

Rehman said there are around 28.08 million smokers in Pakistan. He said the prevalence of smoking is higher in men because of the social construction that smoking is a sign of manhood.

“I wish smoking was taxed so much that people cannot afford to buy cigarettes,” he said.

He said smoking increases the risk of cancer by 23 times and the risk of cardiovascular diseases by 2 to 4 times. In the case of parents who smoke there is the risk of diseases being transferred to new born babies, he said. Rehman said smoking-related diseases also put a financial strain on households.

He said it is a myth that Sheesha is not as bad as smoking cigarettes. He said Sheesha is not only packed with nicotine but the smoking pipe also increases the risk of transmitting pulmonary infectious diseases.

Dr Saeedullah Shah, a consultant cardiologist at the Shifa hospital, said when a cigarette company anywhere in the world earns $5,000, one smoker dies.

“I would say they kill a smoker every time they earn $5000,” he said. “It is alarming that over 70 percent people with cardiovascular diseases are smokers.”

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