THE World No Tobacco Day was recently observed (May 31), with the campaign theme this year focussing on efforts towards protecting children from the influence of tobacco industry. In my university life, I remember having a conversation that has stayed with me since then.

As a student ambassador for a cancer hospital at the time, I once used to help organise awareness sessions for the prevention as well as early detection of cancer. One time, I was discussing organising a session on anti-tobacco awareness, and a friend, who used to smoke herself, asked me why I thought children would choose a session to get lectured about what they already know is bad for their health.

Unsurprisingly, this highlights the challenge of connecting with our youth on the critical issue at a time when the tobacco industry is using newer tactics to make its products appealing to the younger generation, such as introducing flavours and using social media platforms that are popular among the youth. The latest tool being used is that of e-cigarettes. Even if these are considered a cessation tool for adults who already smoke, it should never be encouraged as an effective alternative to smoking among the young as it can actually lead them to start smoking. Indeed, there are many experts who do not recommend the use of e-cigarettes even as a cessation tool.

Undoubtedly, smoking increases the risk of at least 20 different types of cancers as well as disease related to the lung, kidney and heart. In Pakistan, oral and lung cancers are among the leading cancer types. According to data from Karachi, oral cancer is prevalent and this is attributable to the prevalence of chewing tobacco. The problem is that people are generally aware of the harmful effects of tobacco usage, but they do not know how to quit. We need to make tobacco cessation support more widely accessible across the country.

Mariam Khan
Lahore

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2024

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