Ending tobacco use

Published December 14, 2021

THE cancer, literally, of smoking has proved one of the most endemic preventable dangers to human well-being (it kills 7m people annually) — from the deleterious effects on people and families, to the burden on healthcare systems, to economic losses caused by poor workforce productivity. But despite a sustained global effort to counter the habit, we keep smoking. Why this is so is because of the strength and stealth of the tobacco industry, which collectively commands billions of dollars across the world: where it comes under pressure in one place, because of anti-smoking laws and taxation that are in place in many countries, Pakistan included, it raises its ugly head in another. It is with some air of hopelessness, then, that last week in Islamabad the Pakistan National Heart Association issued an open letter urging persons in positions of social influence to be wary of being lured into a campaign titled ‘Ab Khasara bus Khudara’ that has been launched by the industry in protest against taxation on cigarettes. The government’s Tobacco Control Cell tells us that least 23.9m adults use tobacco in some form. Amongst the youth (13-15 years of age), 13.3pc and 6.6pc girls are tobacco users. The WHO notes that tobacco use here is continuing to grow due to “steady population growth, low prices, lack of awareness [...] and aggressive tobacco industry marketing efforts”. This is so despite measures the country has put in place including bans on sales to minors, smoking in public places, and on advertisements.

Contrast this with New Zealand’s move, also last week, to instal a circuit-breaker. According to the plan, people aged 14 and under in 2027 will (amongst other measures) never, in their entire lifetimes, be allowed to purchase cigarettes. The Pacific country argues that other efforts are taking too long; thus, “new cohorts of youth” must be aggressively protected. If such prohibition is indeed what it will take to extinguish the habit, then be done it must. Panah and others must stick to their guns.

Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2021

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