Islamabad: The Directorate of Tobacco Control of the Ministry of National Health Services has directed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to instruct all television channels to immediately cleanse their dramas and programmes of smoking scenes. Such scenes lure young people towards tobacco use, and PEMRA should instead consider telecasting public service messages against smoking, which kills 166,000 people in Pakistan each year.
In a letter addressed to PEMRA’s Chairman, Saleem Baig, the PM’s Special Assistant on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza has referred to the Tobacco Control Directorate’s findings to the effect that after an earlier decline, there has been a considerable increase in indirect advertising scenes portraying popular artists engaged in smoking. “It is an open secret that such on-screen exposure to smoking, as depicted in dramas, movies, and television shows, has deleterious consequences as it tempts youth to initiate tobacco use,” the letter points out.
The letter highlighted that according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2014, almost 24 million (19.1%) adults currently use tobacco in any form. Of these, 15.6 million (12.4%) adults currently smoke tobacco; this includes 3.7 million adults who use water pipes, hookah or sheesha and another 9.6 million (7.7%) adults who use smokeless tobacco. “Among young smokers, two-thirds will become ill as a result of tobacco use unless we can persuade them to quit. More importantly we have a responsibility to deter other children and youth from initiating tobacco use.”
Dr. Zafar stated in the letter, urging PEMRA to take responsible actions in view of the grave statistics in hand, and to “issue needed directions to all TV channels to immediately stop this practice and save the youth of Pakistan” by imposing a complete ban on smoking scenes, and to attach a copy of the said instructions to the Directorate of Tobacco Control.
With 64% of the country’s population comprising young people aged less than 30 years and 29% aged between 15 to 29 years, Pakistan needed to be extra cautious in ensuring an immediate ban on all activities and actions that have the potential to promote tobacco use among its youth. “Most long-term tobacco users initiate smoking before 15 years of age and are more likely to suffer from tobacco-related diseases and premature death,” the letter flagged.
It is pertinent to mention here that evidence has found that 15% of young people aged 13-15 years in the Region own an object with a tobacco company logo or other cigarette branding, while 9% have been offered free cigarettes by a tobacco company representative. Add to this, the constant exposure to smoking scenes on television and big screens and the tobacco industry can be credited. It is, therefore, imperative for PEMRA now to take maximum possible measures to control direct and indirect advertising of tobacco use on television channels.
Pakistan, being a signatory to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and other tobacco control interventions as part of the 2030 UN agenda for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, is under obligation to proactively take measures that restrict tobacco use, now that WHO has categorized it as a threat to development. The global tobacco epidemic kills 7 million people each year, of which more than 600,000 are non-smokers dying from breathing secondhand smoke.