ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is facing a heavy burden of disease because of combustible smoking, with more than 25 million users of tobacco in the country.

Some estimates say the number of tobacco users has reached 29 million.

This was stated at an event titled: ‘A Discussion on Smoking Cessation and Tobacco Harm Reduction’ organised by Alternative Research Initiative (ARI) on Wednesday.

If people decide to give up smoking, they do not know where they should seek assistance. That is why less than 3pc smokers successfully quit smoking in a year in Pakistan

The total cost of all smoking attributable to diseases and deaths in Pakistan was 3.85 billion dollars in 2019.

Research analyst Dr Abdul Hameed Leghari informed the discussants that tobacco harm reduction works as almost all of the disease risk attributable to smoking arises from the smoke: the particles of tar and toxic gases that are inhaled from burning tobacco.

ARI Project Director Arshad Ali Syed regretted that smokers’ concerns have been ignored in Pakistan’s tobacco control efforts.

He said that smokers should be part of efforts for a smoke-free future, since their participation in cessation efforts at policy level will provide the critical link for knowing what help they need to quit.

Meanwhile, health experts have urged the government to impose health levy on tobacco products to save precious lives, which are at imminent fatal risk.

In a joint press release shared by Society for Protection of Rights of the Child (Sparc), the experts recommended to the government to take this step, which has been pending since June 2019.

Country head Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids Malik Imran Ahmed said in June 2019, the federal cabinet decided to implement a health levy on tobacco products to protect the health of low-income groups and children by taking tobacco products out of their spending reach. Unfortunately, some key members from government, hailing from tobacco growing areas, repeatedly blocked this move.

He added that tobacco industry claims to be an essential entity however tobacco use is the leading cause of death due to non-communicable diseases such as cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and cardiovascular disease.

Sparc Programme Manager Khalil Ahmed Dogar mentioned that children and low-income people were primary target of tobacco industry and unfortunately, tobacco control policies were making those groups more vulnerable.

He said the average increase of 10.8pc in excise tax on cigarette in Finance Bill 2022 is even lower than the 13.3pc inflation; cigarettes will become affordable than two years ago. Therefore, it is important to impose health levy immediately otherwise the number of smokers in Pakistan will go beyond control.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2022

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