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‘Kill tobacco industry before it kills you’

ISLAMABAD: Protesting against the Health Ministry’s decision to extend deadline to tobacco industry for raising the size of pictorial health warning on cigarette packs to 85%, civil society has urged the government to go for plain packaging and sign the WHO’s Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.

The Network for Consumer Protection communicated this message on the eve of the World No Tobacco Day “Stop illicit trade of tobacco products” in a gathering of tobacco control advocates in front of the National Press Club on Saturday.

Seemingly under pressure from tobacco industry the Ministry of National Health Services Regulation and Coordination (NHSRC) has twice delayed the implementation of raised pictorial health warning. The recent GATS says that 77.5 percent of current smokers noticed health warnings on cigarette packages and 29.7pc of current smokers thought about quitting after seeing the warnings.

Participants of the gathering urged the government to take the recently released results of Global Adult Tobacco Survey as an eye opener and accelerate its efforts to enforce all the tobacco control measures as enunciated in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), including implementation of the Article 3 of the Protocol that aims at eliminating all forms of illicit trade in tobacco products.

The protocol is in accordance with Article 15 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Article 15 of WHO FCTC regards elimination of all forms of illicit trade in tobacco products as an essential component of tobacco control and requires nations of the world to take measures to eliminate illicit trade of tobacco products, including smuggling, illicit manufacturing and counterfeiting.

A large number of health professionals, youths and tobacco control advocates gathered outside the National Press Club on the eve of World No Tobacco Day. A good number of women and children also took part in the protest. They shouted slogans against tobacco industry and advocated stringent laws on tobacco. The highlight of the evening, however, was presence of skulled mannequins depicting smokers who died prematurely due to excessive use of tobacco or as an impact of second-hand smoking.

Clad in patient gowns these mannequins of grownups (both male and female) and children gave a clear message to the world to “kill tobacco industry before it kills you”. Each mannequin holding a placard in its hands was telling his/her story about the sorry tales of the mysteries of tobacco user.

The show attracted quite a large number of people, including pedestrians, motorists and media. The entire activity thus turned into a colourful music gala.

Besides mannequins, the participants were also holding placards, banners and pamphlets drawing people as well as the authorities’ attention towards health risks associated with tobacco use. They urged the government to introduce effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption.

Talking to media on this occasion, Nadeem Iqbal Executive Coordinator of The Network said that according to recent GATS report launched on May 28, 2015 almost every 9 out of 10 adults consider smoking injurious to health but still 29pc smokers in Pakistan start smoking before the age of 17 years. This shows that smoking is not an awareness issue but a case of government failure in implementing the existing laws and strengthening their enforcement, he said.

Tobacco industry is having free hand in marketing as the percentage of smokers who noticed cigarette marketing in stores is 34.4 pc while around 42pc notice it at places other than point of sale.

While 31.8pc of men, 5.8pc of women, and 19.1pc overall (23.9 million adults) currently used tobacco in any form, the government failure in protecting non-smokers health is evident, Nadeem said, from the findings that 69.1pc adults are exposed to tobacco smoke at the workplace. Of them 72.5pc are male and 37.3pc are female. 86pc adults are exposed to tobacco smoke in restaurants. Almost 8 in every 10 adults are exposed to smoking in public transport.

Another startling fact revealed by GATS is that healthcare providers once considered pro-active tobacco control advocates are also falling into tobacco industry’s trap. The health authorities have also failed to make health facilities smoke free. Only half of the adult smokers say they get advice from healthcare facility to quit smoking but on the other 37.6pc including 32.8pc women are exposed to smoke in a health facility.

According to Nadeem Iqbal, tobacco is also causing malnutrition in majority of families as on an average, a current smoker spent Rs 767 per month on manufactured cigarettes. This amount is equal to 40-kg wheat flour bag. Average amount spent on 20 manufactured cigarettes is Rs 41.

The biggest frustration is when one sees that percentage of adults who believe that smoking should not be allowed in indoor public places are 99.9%. Here one sees a complete failure of district governments, concluded Iqbal.

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