PESHAWAR: The famous maxim, ‘a head without ecstasy is a donkey’s head’, is nowhere truer than in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) where the use of naswar (a tobacco derivative that is chewed to get high) is so common that those not habitual to it are considered to be boors.
According to official statistics more than 70 per cent of the people in K-P are in the habit of chewing naswar. According to the Pakistan Tobacco Board, there is a huge market for naswar in the province estimated at around Rs6 billion annually.
Famous for quality naswar , Dera Ismail Khan and Bannu, also export the product to Punjab and Sindh. There is a huge demand for naswar in Karachi, which has a large population of migrants from K-P.
Habib Gul, who has been selling naswar in Peshawar’s Dabgari Garden, said 20 years in the business had earned his product a brand name among naswar users.
“We use fine ingredients and the best quality tobacco, although it is quite expensive but still we want to produce quality products to have an edge over our competitors,” Gul said.
Naswar is popular among all age groups from 12 years olds to septuagenarians. Women are also among naswar addicts but it is more popular among the younger lot who emulate their elders.
“I tried it only for fun initially but later I got addicted to it. I tried to get rid of the habit but I couldn’t,” Israr Shah, a Mardan teenager confessed.
Naswar is made from fresh tobacco leaves, calcium oxide and wood ash. Senior medical practitioner and a chest specialist, Prof (Dr) Mukhtar Zaman Afridi said, “the use of naswar directly causes lung, stomach and mouth cancer besides causing bronchitis, kidney, heart and other diseases”.
Medical experts are of the view that the diseases caused by naswar are more fatal than those caused by smoking. The health department has been engaged in a fierce campaign against smoking through the print and electronic media but has failed to run a similar campaign against the use of naswar.
Pubished in The Express Tribune, November 23rd, 2010.