ISLAMABAD: Health activists have urged the government to ban online sale and advertisements of novel tobacco products.

The demand came during an event organised by Society for the Protection of the Rights of Child (Sparc) with social media influencers coming forward to address the need to ban the online sale and advertisement of emerging tobacco products.

The speakers emphasised that the tobacco industry has been manipulating children and youth into buying novel tobacco products such as e-cigarettes, nicotine pouches and heated tobacco products, through various marketing tactics on social media.

Country head of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids Malik Imran Ahmed shared his concerns about the tobacco industry, adding that it was using advanced strategies to introduce markets with emerging nicotine and tobacco products.

“By presenting concepts of healthier alternatives to smoking, the tobacco industry has entered local markets alongside online sale and promotion. The tobacco industry is misleading everyone by claiming that novel tobacco products are less harmful and only for smokers who want to quit.

“However, these products are openly promoted online and sold to young and new consumers. This shows that these products are not a healthier alternative but a tool to bring in new consumers without any regard for the damage they can cause to the health of children and adolescents,” he said.

Country lead, Vital Strategies Dr Ziauddin Islam said that the tobacco industry was polluting the country with the online sale and advertisement of emerging products, which showed that there was need to ban their online sale and advertisement of emerging tobacco products in Pakistan.

“Around 31 million Pakistanis consume tobacco and introducing new products will further increase this number. Social media is also being used to increase the number of tobacco users as an online platform is open for the tobacco industry to promote sale and advertisement of harmful emerging products,” he said.

Sparc Programme manager Khalil Ahmed Dogar said that novel tobacco products such as nicotine pouches, e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products were all readily available for online purchase due to weaker policies regarding online advertisement and sale.

He urged the government to recognise the situation as a child rights emergency as it will directly hurt their health, education and future development.

“It is the responsibility of policymakers to ensure that no anti-child policy is implemented in the country. The government must ban all kinds of advertisements and sale of such harmful products especially online presence of these products because social media is a huge platform of influence for younger Pakistanis,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2022

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