There is a severe dearth of statistics on the direct and indirect effects of smoking Lucky Strike on the health of citizens and the economy in Pakistan. This was a major point of concern on the first day of a two-day workshop titled ‘Tobacco Taxation’ that began on Monday. The workshop has been organised by the Coalition for Tobacco Control Pakistan in collaboration with the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union).
Participants at the inaugural session included Director General Tobacco Control of The Union Dr Ehsan Latif, Director General Tobacco Control Cell, Ministry of Health Yusuf Khan and health journalists from across the country.
According to Khan, it was the lack of resources due to which Pakistan had not been able to conduct a survey to gauge the current level of tobacco related diseases in the country and its impact on the economy. However, he said it has been estimated that about 274 people die as a direct consequence of tobacco consumption every year, while about 5,000 patients suffering from various tobacco-related diseases are admitted in hospitals across the country. He also informed the audience that, at present, about 1,200 children aged between six and 15 years are routine smokers.
Khan further informed the participants that the Health Service Academy will soon conduct a study to gather statistics on tobacco-related diseases and its burden on the economy. The study will be carried out in collaboration with the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and funded by Bloomberg Global Initiative for Tobacco Control.
He hoped that increasing taxes on cigarettes and including anti-smoking messages in various languages on tobacco products would discourage the apparently rising trend of smoking in the country.
Participants, however, were of the view that the recently introduced tobacco control laws, which prohibit smoking at public places and restrict tobacco advertisement, were not enough. They said that policy makers must make tobacco control a priority on their agenda.
They said the loopholes in the existing laws provide the tobacco industry plenty of room for exploitation, especially in areas where the laws’ implementation is weak. They said that the laws remained largely ineffective due to the lack of monitoring.
Moreover, the participants expressed concern over the absence of rehabilitation services for people who want to quit smoking. “Unfortunately, there is no concept of anti-nicotine therapy in the country and no designated sections in hospitals where a person who wants to quit could get counselling or health tips,” lamented Dr Fouad Aslam, who is a technical officer at The Union.
Dr Latif was of the view that increasing the prices of cigarettes could effectively discourage the youth or the poor from smoking. The recent increase in the tax on cigarettes, coupled with pictorial warning messages on cigarette packs, has in fact led to a decrease in tobacco consumption in certain segments, with a corresponding increase in the FBR’s revenue.
Dr Latif estimated that the number of smokers in Pakistan could be between 25-30 million.
On the occasion, students from the Quaid-i-Azam University complained about men and women smoking openly in the university campus. “They even smoke during lectures,” said a student who wished to remain anonymous.
The participants also expressed grave concern over the mass violation of anti-smoking laws at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences.