ISLAMABAD: After the health ministry made a bid to legalise heated tobacco products (HTPs) through a statuary regulatory order (SRO), opinions have emerged in favour and against these tobacco products which are apparently “less harmful” than conventional cigarettes.

The anti-tobacco activists have sought the intervention of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to reject the regularisation of HTPs which is part of the federal cabinet’s agenda.

However, a think tank has claimed that Pakistan should move for the legalisation of HTPs because they were “less hazardous as compared to conventional cigarettes”. But these products are widely opposed by local NGOs and health activists.

The Society for Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc) urged all stakeholders to play their role in protecting the youth from “harmful innovative tobacco products”.

Sparc Programme Manager Khalil Ahmed Dogar said nearly 1,200 children start smoking every day in Pakistan due to easy access to tobacco products. “We can’t afford any more [children] getting addicted to these new products. It is a golden opportunity for our policymakers to give a message to our young generation that they will be protected from all harm,” he said.

Dr Ziauddin Islam, country lead for health NGO Vital Strategies, said that the researches claiming HTPs were less harmful than cigarettes were “funded by the tobacco industry”.

“The independent research has warned about their harmful effects,” he said.

Panah General Secretary Sanaullah Ghumman claimed that his organisation was “exposing [tobacco] industry’s tactics and will continue to play its role to save youth”.

Similarly, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Member National Assembly (MNA) Dr Nisar Ahmad Cheema, while speaking to participants of an event organised by Pakistan National Heart Association (Panah), said that public health was a top priority of the government and he will not compromise on the public health of people.

MNA Dr Samina Matloob said that tobacco products were very harmful to human health and suggested imposing heavy taxes on cigarettes to discourage their use. Another MNA Zahra Fatmi said that “nothing was more harmful to human health than tobacco”. She said it was the leading cause of lung cancer.

However, a think tank, the Alternative Research Initiative (ARI) called upon the government to take a “research-based approach” to regulate and mitigate the harmful impacts of tobacco products. “The world is exploring evidence-based interventions to address the issue of tobacco use,” said ARI head Arshad Ali.

He said that any legislative interventions on regulating products should be in the light of independent research. Underlining the need to rely on data, he called for an open dialogue to build consensus regarding legal and administrative intervention over the use of tobacco. He stressed that the ARI backed the heated tobacco products for adult smokers who were unable to give up smoking.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

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