ISLAMABAD: Concerns have been raised by civil society and health activists regarding the growing popularity of new nicotine products among children and youth in Pakistan.

They claimed that products were highly addictive due to their substantial nicotine content.

In a press release issued by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of Child (SPARC), it was emphasised that the government must prohibit the sale and promotion of these highly dangerous products to protect children.

“While radio and television advertising for these products is already banned, the tobacco industry has found ways to target Pakistan’s youth, especially children, through online promotions and sales,” Malik Imran Ahmed Country Head Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) said.

He pointed out that 58.7 million of population consisted of young individuals, and the tobacco industry was actively pursuing youth to reap enormous profits.

“This puts us in a precarious position, jeopardising the well-being of Pakistan’s future generations as they face the risk of addiction and early onset of diseases. The big tobacco industry is not only making its presence felt on social media but is also endeavouring to captivate the attention of children by enhancing the appeal of their products in tea cafes, markets, small grocery stores, stalls and malls. These products are displayed in various flavours, bright colours, and enticing shapes, often placed near toys, chocolates and candies,” he said.

SPARC Programme Manager Khalil Ahmed Dogar stated that the tobacco industry targeted young people because they were more impressionable.

“The industry requires new customers to sustain its profits in the coming decades, which is why they disseminate misleading information about new nicotine products and label them as healthier alternatives,” he said.

Khalil added that it was imperative that the government takes stringent measures to counter those deceptive tactics employed by the tobacco industry. He said tobacco-related diseases not only burden the nation’s healthcare system but also diminished Pakistan’s youth potential and productivity.

Graphic and text health warnings pivotal for cessation

Meanwhile during a seminar titled, ‘MPOWER – Preparing the Next Generation of Tobacco Control Advocates: WARNING,’ participants said that graphic and textual health warnings on all tobacco products were pivotal to counter misleading marketing tactics and reinforce tobacco cessation.

Event was organised by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in collaboration with Vital Strategies.

In his opening remarks, Dr Vaqar Ahmed, Joint Executive Director SDPI, said that deceptive packaging has long been used by tobacco companies to lure and mislead the youth, therefore, pictorial warnings were effective deterrents to prevent them from initiating smoking.

Highlighting the role of media and civil society in tobacco cessation awareness, he suggested that tobacco products must carry clear and transparent warnings, including pictorial warnings to ensure transparency of information.

Dr Minhajus Siraj, from Health Services Academy, remarked that the size of the industry and its influence in the policy circles was huge and the key to countering the deceptive efforts of the tobacco industry lied in being innovative.

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2023

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