Draft of National Tobacco Control Policy finalised

Updated June 01, 2020

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A man sits on a charpoy as he puffs on a hookah in G-7. — White Star
A man sits on a charpoy as he puffs on a hookah in G-7. — White Star

ISLAMABAD: The draft of Pakistan’s National Tobacco Control Policy has been finalised on ‘World No Tobacco Day’, which was observed on Sunday.

Talking to Dawn, Project Director Smoke Free Cities Dr Minhajus Siraj said: “Though we were hoping to launch the draft on May 31, which is internationally observed as no tobacco day, it could not happen because of continuous engagements of Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza. In the draft, it has been suggested that tobacco control should be a federal subject just like tobacco growing and products are the federal subject; it also suggests that there is no need for sub-national legislation. Unfortunately we have been following suggestions of international donors due to absence of national policy.”

It is also mentioned in the draft that there should be a tobacco control directorate in the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS).“It also suggests that there should be two wings of the directorate; one for policy making and the second for implementation of the law,” he added.

Meanwhile, Dr Mirza on Sunday urged masses, especially youth to avoid smoking as it does irreversible damage to health.

“The global tobacco epidemic kills nearly eight million people. More than seven million of these deaths are from direct tobacco use and around 1.2 million are due to non-smokers being exposed to secondhand smoke. More than 80pc of these preventable deaths are among people living in low-and middle-income countries. In Pakistan, tobacco use remains a major public health challenge claiming 160,000 lives annually. Furthermore, 1,200 Pakistani children, between the ages of six to 15 smoke daily, which is alarming,” he said in a statement.

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) and Secretariat of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) are calling countries to prioritise and accelerate tobacco control efforts as part of their responses to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Under the FCTC, an international treaty to which Pakistan is a signatory, the NHS has an obligation to develop strategies to protect the health of Pakistanis from tobacco exposure. Our government under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken major strides in the realm of tobacco control. Our ministry has tabled an ambitious tobacco taxation reforms proposal for consideration in the upcoming budget which seeks Rs24 billion in additional tax revenue, which will be used for saving the lives of the public. I am pleased to share that we successfully implemented a ‘Smoke Free Islamabad Model’ through 85pc compliance of tobacco control laws. All public parks, high-rise buildings, food outlets and public transport areas are smoke free in Islamabad. This model has also hence far been replicated in five model districts and has been acknowledged by WHO.”

According to WHO estimates, 44 million children - aged 13 to 15 are smoking and many more preteens are likely to join the number. Data from 39 countries shows that around nine percent of children between this age group, are now using e-cigarettes, as tobacco companies deliberately use ‘deadly’ tactics to target children and get them hooked on smoking. Pakistan is among the top 15 countries in the world with widespread tobacco consumption and higher rates of tobacco-related health issues.

In a statement, Coalition for Tobacco Control (CTC-Pak) said with its resources and access to policy making forums, the tobacco industry is stonewalling all efforts for tobacco control in Pakistan.

“The aggressive campaign by the tobacco industry to take attention away from the real and dangerous problem of smoking on World No Tobacco Day is staggering,” CTC-Pak National Coordinator Khurram Hashmi said while terming the campaign regarding illicit cigarettes as “most unfortunate.”

“It gives the impression as if smoking is an innocuous habit and is in danger because of illicit cigarette trade. It is interesting to note that the tobacco industry wants to save Rs44 billion for Pakistan in taxes by fighting illicit cigarette trade but did not want to spend it on providing smoking cessation services. These services in Pakistan are currently non-existent,” he added.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2020