KARACHI– Researchers from Aga Khan University (AKU) have launched a comprehensive study aimed at understanding and addressing public health risks posed by smokeless tobacco products,that are largely ignored by policymakers.
Unlike cigarettes, smokeless or chewing tobacco products such as paan (betel leaf), niswaar (powdered tobacco snuff) and gutka (a mix of tobacco and areca nut), carry no health warnings on packaging, resulting in many individuals failing to appreciate the life-threatening consequences of consuming such addictive products.
“You can buy 4 packets of chewing tobacco for under a rupee from any cabin on the street and most people think that these products are a harmless high,” says Prof Javaid Khan from Aga Khan University who is leading the Pakistan component of a regional study, Astra, into smokeless tobacco. “Everyone is focused on cigarettes even though 85% of the world’s 300 million users of chewing tobacco live in countries in South Asia such as Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.”
According to Dr. Khan, the use of smokeless tobacco products is a major factor behind Oral Cancer being the second most common form of cancer in Pakistan. He adds that recent research has shown that smokeless tobacco can now be linked to cardiovascular diseases.
Astra will see researchers from 12 universities, collaborating on this interdisciplinary project that spans Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. The wide scope of activities under the study range from qualitative studies into the personal and socio-economic reasons that drives smokeless tobacco use, right through to the development of cost-effective interventions that work best for each country’s policy environment.
“We first want to establish a baseline scenario of the drivers of smokeless tobacco consumption, especially among the youth,” says Dr. Khan. “This would not only cover the motivations of consumers but would also explore the lobbies and business interests that are preventing legislation.”
Insights from this study will lead to the development of cessation interventions. This phase will aid the researchers in analyzing whether economic incentives, behavioral changes, or the use of medicine-based therapies help users in quitting smokeless tobacco products.