Karachi: Cigarette smoking kills over 124,000 Pakistanis every year. This death toll is far greater than total deaths occurring as a result of suicidal bombings, traffic accidents and crime related killings in a given year. This was highlighted at a seminar organized at the 13th Health Asia conference held at Expo center Karachi.
This alarming number means a plane load of daily deaths from tobacco related disease. Experts while talking at the Health Asia Conference urged the government to treat the situation as alarming and increase taxation to discourage smoking.
Prof Javaid Khan of Aga Khan University and Chairperson NATC asked the government to increase taxation on cigarettes in order to curb the growing tobacco epidemic in the country. He said that decrease in the taxation on cigarettes in the last budget was a backward move for the tobacco control in the country. Quoting a research conducted by International Agency for Research on Cancer last year, he said that 50% increase in inflation adjusted price could reduce smoking prevalence by 20%. Prof. Javaid Khan said that the taxation on cigarette at present in Pakistan is lowest in the region. The low taxation rate encourages the public, especially youth to take up this powerful addiction. Significant increases in tobacco taxes are a highly effective tobacco control strategy and could lead to significant improvements in public health according to recent WHO and World Bank reports, he added.
Dr Sobia Bilal of International Medical University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in her presentation highlighted the need for incorporating tobacco control and smoking cessation in the curriculum of medical and nursing schools in Pakistan. She urged the government to set up smoking cessation clinics at all major hospitals of the country. Dr Bilal regretted on the high smoking prevalence rates amongst the doctors of Pakistan. She urged the doctors in Pakistan to not only set a good example by not smoking themselves, but also work to make their clinics, health centers and hospitals smoke free.
Mr Shahzad Alam of WHO Islamabad appealed to the government that the “Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of non-smoker’s Health Ordinance of 2002” be strictly enforced in order to protect the public health from tobacco. Pakistan is one of the countries where cigarette consumption is increasing with the passage of every year as according to a WHO report, every adult consumes 510 cigarettes on average every year which is alarming. He said that the display pictures on cigarettes was approved by the government but was put on the back burner when the UK delegation met the Health and Finance Minister.
Prof. Ayyaz Ali Khan of Shaikh Zaid Medical Complex Lahore, urged the doctors to start making a difference and own this problem by counseling their patients to quit. He also urged the hospitals to develop Smoking Cessation units to further help people to quit. Talking about the hazards of second hand smoking he said that passive smoking is a serious health risk to a non-smoker. He necessitated that all public places and public transport should be made truly smoke free in order to protect the health of non-smokers.
Dr Syed Raza Hussain of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer hospital Lahore warned that tobacco in any form increases the risk of cancer in the body. He regretted that tobacco is responsible for almost 50% of all cancer cases in the country, yet smoking is still being advertised in the country at the point of sale and is portrayed through TV drama serials as a pleasurable, cool, glamorous act. He demanded a comprehensive ban on all forms of tobacco advertising and sponsorship in the country, including advertising at shops and through TV drama serials and films.