WHEN Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum, the teacher, allowed Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the student, to smoke in his class, it may have been viewed as a progressive gesture aimed at breaking the hold of oppressive etiquette. The fashionable images have changed over time, and they have changed far more quickly than ever in recent decades. People do smoke by choice, but behind their now dismissive, now defensive exteriors, they try to hide the guilt that must today accompany the act. A student may still smoke in college, but far from a taboo-breaker he is a health hazard. Quitting smoking is a stern test that distinguishes an individual, and passive smoking leaves the sensitive and the aware unable to breathe and demanding stricter adherence to common sense if not the law.
A Karachi-based study has reconfirmed how anti-smoking laws are flouted here with absolute impunity. The survey done by a group of doctors from Aga Khan University and Dow University lists violations of the laws at campuses, restaurants, banks etc, and notes that in comparison to the old government offices, modern private-sector institutions are more likely to follow the law. Even in privately run places such as restaurants, smokers freely spread toxic clouds. Cigarettes are freely sold to minors and sold routinely without the packs bearing the mandatory warning. Fines — as high as Rs100,000 — are there on the books but unheard of in real life. A Dawn report cites the survey supervisor as saying that though a Supreme Court order for implementation does exist, little official inclination to curb violations is in evidence. Actually, inaction in the wake of the 18th Amendment is pointed to. The amendment made the federal anti-tobacco cell redundant without shaking the provinces out of their passive state, leaving the smokescreen of ever-billowing rhetoric intact.