TOBACCO is responsible for killing more Pakistanis than deaths from suicide, bomb blasts, road traffic accidents, honour killing and drug abuse combined. According to the WHO, a death toll of a staggering 5.4 million can be attributed to tobacco use globally, including 100,000 Pakistanis every year. If we do not nip this tobacco epidemic in the bud, then this death toll is expected to rise to 10 million by as early as 2030.

In order to curb the tobacco epidemic in the country, a law was passed in 2002 by Pervez Musharraf’s government. Restrictions were placed on the sale of tobacco to minors and a ban was imposed on smoking at public places. Unfortunately very little was subsequently done by the federal and provincial governments to implement this law.

Many countries, having realised the gravity of the situation, have strict implementation of anti-tobacco laws. Nowadays it is not possible to find anyone smoking at any public place in these countries. Meanwhile, in Pakistan it’s hardly possible to frequent a public place without inhaling tobacco toxins.

This disparity can be attributed to the casual attitude with which we treat our laws: as dignified prose. Hence, despite recommendations by the WHO to increase cigarette prices to dissuade people from smoking cigarettes continue to be one of the cheapest and most readily accessible items in Pakistan.

The Sindh Assembly passed a resolution in 2011 against shisha smoking but it is still being served at all hotels, restaurants and cafes in the province. Another oxymoron is where Pakistanis burn over Rs 200 billion on smoking every year and then spend huge amounts of foreign exchange to import costly medicines required to treat diseases caused by smoking.

It’s time the government realised that by not controlling tobacco we are headed for a medical and economic disaster. Our future generations will not forgive us for our failure today in controlling tobacco abuse, the single largest preventable cause of disease and death in the country.

PROF JAVAID KHAN Chair, National Alliance for Tobacco Control, The Aga Khan University Karachi

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