THE World No Tobacco Day is observed every year on May 31. This is the day when millions of tobacco users decide to give up this powerful addiction which kills almost six million people every year across the globe.

For anti-tobacco advocates the day provides an opportunity to celebrate their achievements in restricting the use of tobacco in the year gone by.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, there is not much to celebrate as far as tobacco control is concerned.

With the high prevalence of smoking (35 per cent men and six per cent women), public places are full of tobacco smoke, and with cigarette costs lowest in the region, Pakistan lags behind the rest of the world in its tobacco control efforts.

If we include the people who use smokeless tobacco (e.g., gutka and ‘naswar’), then more than half of the country’s adult population is addicted to some form of tobacco.

The government signed an international treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2004, in which it committed to take measures to control tobacco use in the country.

Unfortunately very little has subsequently been done to curb this epidemic, which kills 100, 000 people every year in Pakistan.

According to a recent State Bank report, as a nation Pakistan blew away Rs200 billion in 2011 in smoking cigarettes alone.

Equal if not more was spent on smokeless tobacco. And what did the nation get in return — an increasing number of patients suffering from lung and mouth cancer, heart attack, stroke, pneumonia, asthma and hypertension. Additionally, each year, the government spends a substantial amount of foreign exchange on imported and expensive medicine needed to treat these tobacco-related diseases.

Tobacco is not good for any country’s economy: in fact, it makes poor countries even poorer.

In order to control the tobacco epidemic in Pakistan, the government needs to fully enforce anti-smoking laws to ensure that all public places are smoke-free.

It also needs to increase the price of tobacco products to such an extent so as to make their purchase prohibitive.

JAVAID A. KHAN Karachi

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