KARACHI- Aga Khan University’s (AKU) Consultant Chest Physician, Prof Javaid Khan, said that illicit tobacco products like cigarettes, water-pipe tobacco and smokeless tobacco are being smuggled across borders.
These illicit products are untaxed and unregulated, carry no health warnings, and meet no packing or labeling requirements and thus making them cheaper and readily accessible, especially to young and poor people, he added.
Prof Khan, who is also chairman of National Alliance for Tobacco Control (NATC), was delivering his lecture at a seminar held in connection with World No Tobacco Day at a local hotel. This year’s, WHO (World Health Organization) calls on countries to work together to end the illicit trade of tobacco products. The seminar was organised by the NATC in collaboration with Aga Khan University and Pakistan Chest Society.
Elaborating on the subject, Dr Khan said that the fact that such trade is more prominent in low and middle-income countries like Pakistan than in high-income countries, places many of the countries of the region at risk.
Another Consultant Chest Physician and Section Head of Pulmonology at the AKU, Dr Ali Bin Sarwar Zubairi, told the audience that the only way any country can substantially reduce smoking and other tobacco use within its borders is to establish a well-funded and sustained comprehensive tobacco prevention programme that employs a variety of effective approaches.
He warned that alternative tobacco products such as e-cigarettes can cause serious potential health problems, like cancer, because of the chemicals and toxins they contain.
He further said tobacco industry is using different tactics to portray smoking as a pleasurable, cool, glamorous and an adventurous act.
Dr Zubairi demanded a comprehensive ban on all forms of tobacco advertising and sponsorship in the country.
Speaking on the occasion, Dr Talha Shahzad, Consultant Chest Physician at the AKU, said that approximately 50 per cent of smokers die prematurely from their smoking, on average 14 years earlier than non-smokers.
Quoting American Heart Association, he said quitting smoking is arguably the most important preventable risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
“It is beneficial to stop smoking at any age and the health benefits are seen within few weeks of quitting smoking,” he opined.
He urged the country’s doctors’ community that they should not only set a good example by not smoking themselves, but also work to make their clinics, health centers and hospitals smoke-free.
During a lively question-answer session, Prof Javaid Khan informed the audience that tobacco companies have been exerting pressure on the government to withdraw its decision of increasing the size of pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs.
Pictorial health warnings on cigarette boxes is a proven strategy to prevent younger people from taking up this powerful addiction which, he added, kills over 100,000 people every year in Pakistan.
He urged the government to introduce larger-sized pictorial health warnings on every cigarette pack sold in the country as soon as possible, increase taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products and become part of the WHO “Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products”.
He also underscored the need for understanding that the revenue of Rs75 billion that the government generates from the tobacco industry every year was far less than over Rs100bn which the public spends on treating diseases caused by smoking.
At the outset, the chest specialists said that tobacco use represents a serious health challenge and has emerged as an epidemic in the last one decade. Tobacco kills nearly six million people each year, of which more than 600,000 are non-smokers dying from passive smoking.
In Pakistan, an estimated 40pc males and 9pc females are smokers and the number is increasing day by day, they deplored.