One of the most widely discussed public health problems in the world is the health impact of tobacco use, which kills more than 6 million people globally every year. The mortality due to tobacco is more than that associated with tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria combined. Tobacco related diseases, particularly cancers, have become nightmarish to citizens in recent decades and continue to lead the table among the top ten female cancers in Pakistan.
The dreadful issues range from suffering and disfigurement due to oral cancer at one end to the dreaded lung cancer with its high mortality rates at the other end. Additionally, approximately 10 different types of cancers with varying prognosis have been found to have a direct or indirect link to tobacco habits. While these remain the alarming facts about tobacco-related cancers, the list of tobacco-related diseases other than cancers number more than a dozen, virtually affecting every organ of the body.
Among the 1 billion smokers in the world, nearly 80% live in low and middle-income countries. In Pakistan, it is estimated that more than one-third of the population aged 15 years and above are current tobacco users. Over a million tobacco-related deaths are reported annually in India. The figures are alarming for a country like Pakistan which has the world’s largest youth population. Currently the tobacco companies aggressively target young population of the developing countries to market tobacco products.
Pakistan’s tobacco control measures are complex because of the large population, easy availability of inexpensive tobacco products, and disproportionate implementation of tobacco control laws particularly in the rural areas.
According to Pakistan’s Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of National Health Services, Dr. Nausheen Hamid, the number of tobacco users in Pakistan has observed a massive increase as about 1200 children start smoking every day.
She stated that according to the available data, children between the ages of 6 and 12 years are also among those children who start smoking daily.
Dr. Hamid furthermore mentioned that about 160,000 individuals die each year in Pakistan due to the excessive use of tobacco.
“The tobacco industry tries to attract young generations to become users of their products,” she said.
The incumbent government has introduced and implemented numerous measures to regulate and control tobacco use in Pakistan. This includes a ban on smoking in public spaces, work or service areas, and public transport.
Pakistani law forbids selling tobacco products in the vicinity of schools, colleges, or universities. The sellers are prohibited from selling even a single cigarette within a 50-meter radius of any educational institute. Along with this, various advertising and promotional advertisements have also been banned from TV, print media, and radio.
According to data available with the Pakistani Health Ministry’s Tobacco Control Cell, the country has a staggering number of 23.9 million tobacco users, among which 15.6 million are chain smokers.
“5,000 Pakistanis are admitted to hospitals every day due to tobacco,” the cell said, “and 39 percent of households are exposed daily to secondhand tobacco smoke.”