KARACHI: Expressing concern over the growing use of tobacco products among the youth, speakers made an alarming revelation at an event held on Wednesday that an estimated 1,200 children in Pakistan, between the age of six and 15, start smoking every day, as the tobacco in various forms had become even more accessible and desirable for young people with the advent of novel products such as e-cigarettes.

The programme was organised by Voices Against Tobacco (VAT) — an initiative of the Indus Hospital & Health Network (IHHN) — to mark the World No Tobacco Day.

During the event, speakers discussed the current status of tobacco use in Pakistan, the policies needed to curb prevalence of tobacco and how its use continues to harm our environment, and perspectives from the community.

Citing the Global Youth Tobacco Survey, experts said about 1,200 children in Pakistan between the ages of six and 15 years start smoking every day and added that recent data showed that while global smoking rates among adults had fallen, the rate of young smokers continued to rise.

Citing findings of global youth tobacco survey, experts say rate of young smokers continue to rise

“There is clear, persistent use of tobacco products in Pakistan due to lack of understanding of the extent of tobacco hazards to our health and environment,” said Dr Zafar Zaidi, Director of Indus University.

Not only our communities faced the ever-growing health challenges due to increasing tobacco use, but the environments in which we lived were worsening each day, he added.

Dr Zaidi called for tackling misconceptions about tobacco products to curb and break the cycle of its use and providing easily comprehensible data and facts to youth.

IHHN Chief Executive Officer Dr Abdul Bari Khan said tobacco had negatively impacted our healthcare system, our environment and our economy.

“Pakistan’s youth is a particular targeted group when it comes to the use of tobacco, which is why their involvement in raising awareness is crucial.”

About VAT’s objectives, he said it was launched to create a dialogue about the need for meaningful change to improve tobacco control measures in Pakistan. The programme had engaged over 400 students and empowered them with knowledge and skills to take control of their health and future, becoming advocates for their communities.

“As part of an effort to bring about a tobacco-free Pakistan, VAT has also launched a petition for a 30 per cent increase in tobacco taxes, which has garnered over 2,000 signatures thus far,” Dr Khan told the audience.

IHHN Lung Health Programme Director and pulmonologist Dr Saima Saeed said one of VAT’s goals was to provide a common platform for anti-tobacco advocates to raise awareness and support initiatives against tobacco use.

Speakers included Dr Muhammad Suleman Otho representing Sindh Services Hospital, journalist Afia Salam and community health worker at IHHN, Rehman Khanzada.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2022

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