Pakistan - National Conference on Tobacco Control, October 28th..

November 3, 2009 - A daylong national advocacy conference on tobacco control was held in Islamaba on October 28 to raise the level of awareness of policy makers on the issue. The use of tobacco continues to be a major public health challenge in Pakistan where 100,000 annual deaths occur due to tobacco related diseases. Tobacco consumption in Pakistan is increasing manifold as a result of aggressive marketing and promotion of tobacco products by the tobacco industry, including multinationals.

Health experts believe that tobacco consumption is increasing among youth of Pakistan especially in schools, colleges and universities. There are over 30 million smokers in Pakistan of which 37% are male while 9% female and about 1,200 youngsters take up smoking every day. In Pakistan, the annual per capita consumption of cigarettes is recorded as 391 cigarettes per adult per year. Tobacco is the cause of at least 85% cases of lung cancer, cancer of mouth, throat, kidney, bladder and stroke, besides chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Equally alarming is the fact that thousands of people, who never smoked, become victims of second hand smoke (passive, involuntary, ets, shs, environmental tobacco smoke, sidestream).

“Markets like Pakistan are fair grounds for tobacco sales of big tobacco companies because of huge young and illiterate population, loose price controls, permission of sale of open or small packs of cigarettes, ignorance about toxic constituents and emissions of cigarettes and diverse health impacts; last but not the least due to lacunas (defects or gaps) in ‘Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers Health Ordinance 2002’,” said Head of Community Medicine at Islamabad Medical & Dental College Professor Dr Muhammad Ashraf Chaudhry.

Pakistan signed and ratified the multi-sector and multidimensional Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) on May 18, 2004 and November 3, 2004 respectively. Under provisions of FCTC, the country is required to bring its laws and policies in line with the global convention.

When asked, Dr Ashraf said that both sale by and to the minors is extremely rampant in the country and perhaps could not be controlled until the point of sales are licensed and such licences could be revoked in case of violation of the law.

He said that according to Section 7 of the Ordinance, although tobacco advertisement is ban on electronic and print media, but tobacco companies have found new ways to go around the partial restriction on tobacco advertisement. “Person to person sale techniques are being used, huge billboards have been installed on prominent places and markets and highways all over the country, catchy poster are pasted in large numbers and points of sale advertisements have increased manifold. Smoking by actors in television dramas and films is also rampant. Amendment in the law is required for comprehensive ban on tobacco advertisement.”

He said that there is a dire need for necessary amendments in the law that would enable the police to spontaneously issue tickets on the spot to violators of the Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers Health Ordinance 2002. “Moreover, District Health Officers, Food Inspectors, Drug Inspectors of health department must also be empowered to fine on the spot.”

To a query, he said that along with legal approach, public education programmes should also be run by Ministry of Health in collaboration with Education Ministry in educational institutions and should also try to get information about the harms of tobacco included in the syllabus. Large scale public education campaign is required to make public aware of the salient features of the Anti-Smoking Ordinance 2002, he said.

More on tobacco in Pakistan..

References: Removal of lacunas in Anti-Smoking Ordinance urged, Muhammad Qasim, The News, 11/2/2009;
National tobacco control moot on October 28, Business Recorder, 10/24/2009.

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