ISLAMABAD: Health activists on Sunday said media could play a vital role to counter the deceptive campaigns of the tobacco industry to promote harmful emerging tobacco products among Pakistani youth.

They were expressing their views during a consultation organised by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc). Experts and senior journalists explored the need to ban emerging products such as nicotine pouches, e-cigarettes and heated tobacco devices, as they were becoming increasingly popular among Pakistani youth due to elaborate advertisements and promotional campaigns.

Country Lead Vital Strategies and former technical head/director, Tobacco Control Cell, National Heath Services ministry Dr Ziauddin Islam said the number of smokers in Pakistan had reached up to 29 million.

“Tobacco consumption is causing serious health implications on Pakistanis and yearly 170,000 people die as a result. Pakistan became a party to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) on Feb 27, 2005. Our country was already struggling to counter threats posted by cigarettes but now the tobacco industry has launched these emerging products to gain more profit at the expense of public health,” he said.

Health expert says no federal, provincial legislation regarding new tobacco products

Dr Zia said in Pakistan there was no federal or provincial legislation regarding emerging products.

“Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers Ordinance 2002 provides key guidelines regarding advertisement, promotion and sale of tobacco products to children. Such measures are required for emerging products as well to take them out of reach of children and youth,” he said.

Malik Imran Ahmed, country head Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, said utilising the gap in policy-making, the tobacco industry had launched deceptive campaigns and profited from them.

“Emerging products have been directly targeted at youth using icons such as famous musicians, actors and models for paid social media content. The industry has even launched a music show. Furthermore, despite the claims, emerging products are being sold near educational institutions, playgrounds and restaurants to attract young customers,” he said.

Mr Ahmed said media’s extensive and unbiased coverage was the reason for increase in prices of cigarettes after three years.

“Media needs to play its role in exposing tobacco industry’s tactics regarding emerging products as well,” he said.

Sparc Programme Manager Khalil Ahmed Dogar said: “Pakistan is lucky that majority of its population is the youth; 61 million of youngsters are an asset for our country. Nicotine addiction serves as a gateway to many other forms of substance abuse and may cause serious health and mental health issues among youth. Such dangerous products should have no room in a country like Pakistan.”

He said due to cheap and easy affordability nearly 1,200 children begin smoking every day in Pakistan.

“I request the media to take this issue as a child rights issue,” he said.

Chief executive officer of Chromatic Trust Shariq Mahmood Khan said tobacco companies were investing money in online campaigns on almost all social media platforms.

“The algorithms of advertisements are designed in such a deceptive manner that the ads appear even on articles that are written to discourage people from using tobacco,” he said.

Mr Mahmood urged website owners to take down these advertisements and raise awareness on harms of nicotine, second hand smoking, and adverse impacts of tobacco products on public economy and environment.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2022

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