ISLAMABAD, Oct 6: A study has revealed that children in the age group of five and six years living in low and middle income countries, including Pakistan, are exposed to the marketing of tobacco products.

The study was conducted by the Institute for Global Tobacco Control and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The findings were published in the online American journal Pediatrics. During the survey, children were shown the logos of tobacco companies and pictures of cigarette brands.

According to the study, 68 per cent of the children were able to identify at least one cigarette brand logo. The percentage varied between the ranges from 86 per cent in China to 50 per cent in Russia. The study concluded that the exposure to tobacco marketing and branding was associated with early initiation and increased tobacco use among the youth.

Though in Pakistan, law restricts the sale of tobacco products to minors and there is a ban on tobacco advertisements, weak enforcement of the law provides tobacco industry a chance to exploit the situation. As a result, tobacco products are widely advertised and easily available within the reach of anyone regardless of age and gender.

“The use of tobacco is alarmingly high and so are the reported cases of victims who end up compromising their health whether we refer to youth smoking cigarettes or Shisha (waterpipe) or children chewing and spitting Gutka and Naswar etc.,” said Khurram Hashmi, the coordinator for the Coalition for Tobacco Control, Pakistan.

“This is despite the existence of a very effective legislation in Pakistan that not only restricts the use of tobacco in any form but also provides decent guidelines towards a smoke-free society,” he said.

“If only we can ensure the enforcement of the laws, we can prevent our youth from using this filthy habit only to become victims to severe illness such as mouth, throat, lung cancers and heart diseases,” he said.

Though we claim to achieve the smoke-free status, clear violations of the laws are evident not only in Islamabad, the first ‘smoke-free city’ of Pakistan, but also in the rest of the country. The underage sale of tobacco products goes unchecked and no one is there to stop them,” he said.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Hashmi said in Pakistan the study was conducted in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.

“The civil society should remain vigilant for raising more awareness on this much neglected public health issue and the tobacco control laws should be enforced,” he added.

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