LAHORE: As another World No Tobacco Day (May 31) is approaching, the representatives of the campaign against the use of tobacco are of the view that the anti-smoking rules of the country go up in smoke as no educational institute implements these laws on campus.

Pakistan is a signatory to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which calls on the member states to take measures to discourage smoking. One of the measures it suggests is an increase in taxes on tobacco products so that they become expensive for buyers.

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), in Pakistan, 166,000 people lost their lives annually due to tobacco related diseases and the number of the victims (tobacco user) is increasing on a daily basis. The GATS report showed approximately 23.9m adults in Pakistan use various kinds of tobacco products. Of these, 15.6m are regular smokers while 3.7m adults smoke shisha in Pakistan. It further states that 1,200 new people are becoming smokers on a daily basis.

Pakistan has a largest adult population, around 54pc of total population, and these adults are potential target of the tobacco companies. Most of the victims start using tobacco-related products in their teenage, especially in schools and colleges. All the educational institutions have strict rules that prohibit selling tobacco on the campuses while smoking is prohibited publically in the country. However, the number of victims/smokers keeps on increasing regularly due to lack of implementation of these rules.

Tobacco-Free Kids (TFK) Campaign representative Malik Imran told Dawn the governments were running ad hoc policies against the use of tobacco products that increased health cost to Rs192bn.

He said the anti-tobacco organisations were campaigning to increase taxation on tobacco products because Pakistan had the lowest cost of tobacco items in the world and the masses could easily afford them. He said under the laws, sale, promotion and display of tobacco products was banned in the country but he could see the students of most prestigious educational institutes smoking in the campuses.

He said although the educational institutes had banned sale of tobacco products on their campuses but it was not enough and they should completely ban smoking and use of tobacco products on campuses and in hostels.

Mr Imran said introducing graphic image on the cigarette packs did not bring about any change and people did not leave smoking.

“We have conducted survey and found that increasing graphic image to 60pc of the pack resulted in reducing 8pc consumption of tobacco,” he informed.

He said the graphic images on the cigarette packets had created deterrence among the children/new users who stopped doing so after seeing the result on the packet.

Hassan Shehzad, who teaches the media and communications at a public university, said he had conducted surveys on on-campus smoking and the most common cause was easy availability of tobacco.

“Smokers form a company, especially in hostels, and non-smokers are attracted to this company.”

Shehzad suggested that university administrations should digitise hostels, which would help making them make the hostels smoke-free in addition to countering many other ills. He said the government should increase taxes on cigarettes so that their price was enhanced, beyond the purchasing power of youngsters.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2020