KARACHI: Tobacco use presents a serious health challenge and has emerged as an epidemic in the last decade. It kills nearly six million people each year, of which 100,000 deaths occur in Pakistan. Of the six million deaths, more than 600,000 are victims of passive smoking.
Health experts say an estimated 40 per cent of males and nine per cent of females in Pakistan are smokers and that the number is increasing with each passing day.
At a seminar organised on Tuesday by the Pakistan Chest Society, National Alliance for Tobacco Control (NATC) and the Aga Khan University (AKU), NATC chairperson and AKU consultant chest physician Prof Javaid Khan said that tobacco products such as cigarettes, water-pipe tobacco and other tobacco are being smuggled from across borders.
"The fact that this trade is more prominent in low- and middle-income countries, such as Pakistan, rather than in high-income countries places many of this region's countries at risk. These products are untaxed and unregulated, carry no health warnings, and meet no packing or labelling requirements," he said.
Dr Ali Bin Sarwar Zubairi, consultant chest physician and AKU pulmonology section head, said that the only way any country can substantially reduce smoking and other uses of tobacco within its borders is to establish a well-funded and sustained tobacco prevention programme that employs a variety of effective approaches. He said alternative tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes, could potentially cause serious health problems because of the chemicals and toxins they contain. He demanded a ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship in Pakistan.
Dr Talha Shahzad, AKU consultant chest physician, said that approximately 50 per cent of smokers die prematurely — 14 years earlier than non-smokers. "Smoking is arguably the most important preventable risk factor for cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association," he quoted. Dr Shahzad said that doctors should not only set a good example by not smoking themselves but also make their clinics, health centres and hospitals smoke-free.
Prof Khan said tobacco companies were exerting pressure on the government to withdraw its decision of increasing the size of pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs. He said the government's revenue of Rs75 million generated from the tobacco industry is negated by the Rs100 billion in public funds spent on treating smoking-related diseases every year.
He pointed out that the pictorial health warnings have proven successful in preventing young people from picking up a habit that kills 100,000 in Pakistan annually.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2015.