ISLAMABAD: Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) has disbanded the Tobacco Control Cell (TCC) and terminated services of its staff.
According to anti-tobacco advocates this sends out an extremely negative message to the international community, which is going to observe World No Tobacco Day next month. Parliamentary Secretary (Health) Dr Nausheen Hamid was unaware of the decision and said that she will look into it.
The TCC was established in July 2007 with an aim to enhance efforts to curb tobacco use in Pakistan through planning, resource mobilisation, strengthening of institutions, public-private partnerships and monitoring. For instance, a 30 second public service message ‘Sponge’ was designed by the cell, directing attention towards health problems caused by tobacco use. Another public service announcement titled ‘Tobbaco Is Hollowing You Out’ with the use of graphics, highlighted illnesses caused by continued tobacco use including lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and oral cancers.
However, the letter of the NHS ministry, signed by Deputy Director Dr Samra Mazhar, available with Dawn, states that the competent authority has approved some decisions regarding TCC. “The project ‘Pictorial Health Warning Reforms’ is closing on 31stMay 2021. All the record/files may be handed over to the deputy director’s section by 3rdMay. All financial matters may be cleared by TCC and reports may be submitted to the sponsors. Office space may also be vacated by 3rdMay,” the letter states.
An official of the ministry said that the cell was the only body at the government level that was playing its role towards protecting youth from hazards of tobacco use. “Unfortunately some elements in the ministry could not sustain the pressure of the tobacco industry. Prime Minister Imran Khan is also an anti-tobacco advocate but TCC has been disbanded during his tenure,” he said, adding Dr Ziauddin who is World Health Organisation’s focal person on framework convention on tobacco control and illicit trade protocols has been removed from his post.
“I fear that in the future, some of the representatives of the tobacco industry may be brought in TCC,” he pointed out.
Advocate Malik Imran, who has been making effort towards protecting youngsters from smoking said that the tobacco industry had been trying to close the TCC since many years. “Unfortunately some elements in the health ministry bowed and closed the TCC,” he added.
Key facts regarding tobacco use in Pakistan disclose that there are 23.9 million tobacco users in the country - 31.8pc of them men and 5.8pc women. In 2017, about 163,360 people died due to health complications caused by tobacco use. Around 5,000 Pakistanis are admitted in hospitals every day because of tobacco use whereas 1,200 Pakistani children between ages 6 and 15 begin smoking every day.
Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2021