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ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of National Health Services’ (NHS) Tobacco Control Cell (TCC) and the Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC) have signed an agreement under which two public service messages on the hazards of smoking will be played before movies in cinemas.

Because of this agreement, over a million people will see these messages every year in the capital and cantonment areas across the country. Efforts will also be made to convince provincial censor boards to implement the decision.

TCC Technical Head Dr Ziauddin told Dawn had reached out to board chairman Mubashar Hassan to play a role in raising awareness among the public about the hazards of smoking.

“Mr Hassan said that the federal capital and as many as 70 cantonment boards were in his domain and he will ensure that the anti-smoking public service messages are played daily before the start of movies in all three shows,” he said.

Messages will be played daily before all three shows in capital, cantonment areas

“The messages included in the campaign, are ‘Alive’ and ‘Sponge’. [They] have been disseminated to all cinema theatres through the CBFC to air or broadcast them during their shows regularly,” he said.

The 30-second ‘Sponge’ advertisement depicts how cigarette smoke causes preventable diseases and premature death by comparing a smoker’s lungs to a sponge. It illustrates how a smoker’s lungs soak up poisons found in tobacco smoke, which collect in the lungs as cancer-causing tar. The amount of tar generated by a pack-a-day smoker every year could fill a beaker, the ad shows.

In ‘Alive’, people are informed that they could become victims of cancer or suffer from lung infections, and should avoid smoking.

Dr Zia said 50 billboards have been placed in federal and provincial capitals, and if these messages are also extended to provincial cinemas, 5 million people will be able to watch them every year.

According to a statement issed by the ministry, the TCC and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), have been working to institutionalise mass media campaigns through their regulatory system. Over the past 12 months, the TCC and Pemra have distributed two tobacco control mass media campaigns of public service messages to media networks.

An independent media monitoring agency supported by Vital Strategies found that ‘Sponge’ aired over 1,100 times on Pakistani television channels, and in parallel to this, coverage of tobacco control messages has been expanded through community-based channels, including the installation of billboards and posters in hospitals and health centres in Rawalpindi and provincial capitals across the country.

The TCC has also recently notified new pictorial health warnings that take up 50pc of the front and back of all cigarette packs and outers, with a move to enlarge the warnings to 60pc by June 2019.

Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of death in the world. In Pakistan, tobacco is a cause of death of around 108,800 persons every year, or 298 deaths per day. Population-level tobacco control communication programmes are helpful in curbing tobacco use.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2018