ISLAMABAD: Novel tobacco products are becoming increasingly popular among Pakistani youth due to extensive social media marketing and advertisement campaigns by the tobacco industry. These so-called ‘less’ harmful products pose immense danger to public health and if the government does not ban these products, Pakistan’s health system will suffer unprecedented damage.

These thoughts were shared by health experts in a joint press release issued by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc) to divert the federal cabinet’s attention towards the alarming increase in the use of nicotine pouches, e-cigarettes and vapes, collectively referred to as novel or alternative products.

Country head, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Malik Imran Ahmed said tobacco companies had been able to freely market and sell alternative products because unfortunately in Pakistan tobacco control did not go beyond cigarettes and Gutka.

“The alternative products have been in Pakistani market for several years now but there has been no policy or legislation to control and monitor their sales, promotion and advertisement,” he said, adding that the claim of ‘less’ harmful was a big lie because every year around 170,000 precious lives were lost in Pakistan due to tobacco-induced diseases such as cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and cardiovascular disease.

“So even if we believe the lie that alternative products are ‘less’ harmful, the damage done will still be significant,” Mr Ahmed said.

Sparc Programme Manager Khalil Ahmed Dogar said the tobacco industry was searching for a new generation of buyers to keep their business and profits running.

“The fallacious campaigns are targeted at children and youth through social media platforms and sales near educational institutions,” he said, adding that if these attempts of the tobacco industry to gain more buyers are not kept in check through proper mechanisms, they will grow more powerful and continue being the cause of deaths and diseases.

CEO, Chromatic Trust, Shariq Ahmed said tobacco companies were investing huge money in online campaigns on almost all social media platforms.

“The advertisements are designed in such deceptive manner that even famous celebrities join them. There is a need of state-level campaign to raise awareness about the harms of nicotine, second-hand smoking and adverse impacts of tobacco products on public economy and environment,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2022

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