My editorial for Balochistan Times on 12th May, 2019
Pakistan Chest Society Balochistan organised a campaign against the hazards of smoking in connection with the World Asthma Day that is marked every year on 7th of May through a series of seminars, workshops and debates at the Quetta’s only Chest Hospital located from 2nd May to 6th May, 2019. The day itself is organised simultaneously across the globe organised by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) to improve asthma awareness and care around the world.
This time the link between Asthma and growing smoking habits was well drawn by the experts and volunteers who played their part to dissuade people from smoking habit which is a silent killer. Pakistan is a party to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control since 2005 but the number of population with smoking habits is increasing every year in the country leading to many pulmonary diseases and subsequent deaths. According to a study conducted by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) on ‘National Treasury Versus Public Health 2018-19’, there are as many as 23.9 million tobacco users in the country out of which 125000 are dying every year because of tobacco inducted diseases.
The report further revels dangerous trends, saying that mouth and lung cancers find higher prevalence in Pakistan compared to other forms of cancers and both of these are etiologically linked with tobacco use because tobacco smoke is a mixture of gas and particles that contain over 4000 chemicals, 60 of which are known to be carcinogenic.
There is definitely legislation on tobacco control in Pakistan which prohibits smoking in public places, its advertisement, promotion and sponsorship, pictorial warning on tobacco packing and labeling, among others but one seldom sees implementation of these laws. People are indulged in a bitter habit of smoking at public places, restaurants, public transportation facilities, public offices and even educational institutions.
One of the best ways that our neighbouring country India has adopted on tobacco control is to levy taxes on it so that it is beyond the purchasing capacity of the common people. In India a single cigarette costs some Pakistani 40 rupees whereas in Pakistan one can buy a pack of 20 cigarettes with only 40 rupees. This makes it all the more affordable for all the classes and therefore even students are seen getting trapped in the smoking habit, initially as a matter of fun and later it becomes a habit that they find hard to get rid of.
When it comes to Balochistan, its hospitals, schools, public offices, universities, public transport facilities, public toilets, bazaars, restaurants, eateries, hotels, and even sporting areas are all smoking zones where people of all ages are seen smoking without any fear and shame. One dangerous trend that has been observed in Balochistan is growing number of students with smoking habits. A walk in the canteen or open spaces of two big universities located in the provincial capital will confirm the alarming fact that the students adopt this killer habit as a matter of adventure and ruin the health of not only themselves but also that of their fellow students and also spoil the environment of the varsity for other students and teachers.
Government of Balochistan, therefore, should legislate on the anti-tobacco laws itself by involving the health experts and security personnel. The latter because the implementation of the laws shall fall within their purview and they should implement anti-tobacco laws in the public places. Moreover, it should also levy taxes on the buying and selling of tobacco so that this slips out of the public’s purchase capacity. Similar, sensitization campaigns among the masses against the hazards of smoking should be a matter of routine and a complaint centre should be established so that the public can register their complaints against the ones who violate the anti-tobacco laws in the public places. With these and such other measures, smoking habits could be curbed if there exists a will on the part of the authorities concerned.