OVER the last few days, I have received text messages, both in English and Urdu, from the Federal Ministry of National Health Services Regulations and Coordination, warning about the dangers of combustible smoking, requesting to give it up, and also informing that smoking at public places is a punishable offence under the law.

Apparently, it seems a positive initiative. However, if this is an effort to control tobacco use in Pakistan, regretfully it can only be termed half-hearted.

In Pakistan, only less than three per cent smokers successfully give up smoking every year. This is mainly because smoking cessation services in Pakistan are extremely limited in their scope and availability. There is one smoking cessation clinic working at the National Institute of Rehabilitation Medicines. But smoking is not limited to the capital of the country, which has more than 25 million tobacco users.

If the health ministry is serious in controlling the use of tobacco, it should expand and easily make available smoking cessation services. All such messages should also include the national quit-line number so that those who want to give up smoking may know where they can seek assistance from.

Pakistan has a national smoking quit-line. It should have been mentioned in the text messages that are being sent to just about everybody.

With the cooperation and coordination of the provincial governments, there should be smoking cessation clinics across Pakistan. Setting up such clinics should not be expensive.

Though Pakistan has included Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRTs) in the essential medicines list, they are expensive and not easily available. There is a need to reduce the prices of NRTs and ensure that they are easily available.

Unless smokers are heard and helped in giving up smoking, the problem of tobacco use will not go away.

Hamza Azhar
Multan

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2021

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