KARACHI: Speakers at an online session held the other day stressed the need for improving the understanding of tobacco smoking as a drug problem and its impact on public health and governance.

They also demanded strict implementation of laws pertaining to tobacco products and their illicit trade.

Organised by the Society for Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc), the event was held to mark International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking dedicated this year to the theme ‘Better Knowledge for Better Care’.

“Use of tobacco smoking at any age is the first step towards drug use. The issue has become so serious that it should be looked into immediately as a serious form of drug abuse,” said Kashif Mirza of Sparc.

Sharing some data, he pointed out around 1,200 children took up smoking every day in Pakistan and every year more than 170,000 people died due to diseases caused and aggravated by use of tobacco products.

The majority of drug users — estimated to be around 6.7m in Pakistan — were between the ages of 25 and 39 years.

“Use of cannabis is the highest among people aged between 30 and 34 years. Out of 6.7 million drug users, cannabis users are four million, heroin users 0.86 million, opium users 0.32 million, meth addicts 0.019 million, injected drug users 0.43 million, and non-prescription drug users are 1.6 million,” he noted.

PTI MPA in Sindh Assembly Sidra Imran was of the opinion that tobacco smoking had physical as well as psychological impact about which little awareness existed. She also spoke about the threats of passive smoking and described it as equally harmful for human health.

“The federal government looks at this matter seriously and is taking measures to save the youth from the clutches of drug mafia,” she said.

Prof Farah Iqbal, chairperson of Karachi University’s psychology department, said the media and lack of government initiatives had made smoking a normal affair in Pakistan.

“We often forget the fact that smoking is the initial step for youngsters to get attracted to drugs.”

Women rights activist Shumaila Muzammil underscored the need for awareness campaigns and said serious efforts were required from the government to eliminate illicit tobacco trade.

Social activist Haris Jadoon cited a study conducted in 10 populous cities of Pakistan which found that 16 per cent of cigarette packs were part of illicit trade.

Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2020