Tobacco consumption in Pakistan is very high, even among children. The Ministry of National Health Services Regulations and Coordination has estimated that 1,200 children between five and 15 years of age start smoking every day in the country.
The report says there are 20 million child smokers in Pakistan. It also revealed that more than 100,000 people die every year in Pakistan from tobacco-related illnesses.
Tobacco control activists in the country are raising their concerns over Prime Minister Imran Khan receiving donations from tobacco companies. The country representative of Tobacco Free Kids, Malik Imran, believes that if PM Khan were to read some of the research done by the World Health Organization on the number of tobacco consumers, he would take action as the premier is an anti-tobacco advocate himself.
“PM Khan is committed to work against cigarette smoking,” Imran said on SAMAA TV’s show Naya Din on Thursday. “He knows it can lead to cancer,” he added.
The activist said the premier has not been properly advised by his team on whether to meet the tobacco companies. “Taking donations from the companies is a clear violation of Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC),” he added.
The FCTC states that government representatives are restricted from meeting or receiving funds from tobacco companies, even as part of under Corporate Social Responsibility activities.
Imran said PM Khan may not be aware that being a signatory of the FCTC, Pakistan cannot receive any funds from tobacco companies. The government signed the FCTC in May 2004 and ratified it the same year. The FCTC is the first international treaty providing a framework for tobacco regulations.
He said that the tobacco industry is profiting as there is currently no tax levied on cigarettes, adding that even NAB is taking their revenue under consideration.
“The companies think they can get away with giving donations, but they cannot,” he added.
The role of parents and schools
Motivational speaker Shahzad Qamar believes that children are being influenced to start smoking because of their environment.
“Cigarette smoking has become very common in our society and young teenagers are being affected by it,” Qamar told SAMAA TV. He said shopkeepers should not sell cigarettes to children in school uniforms, adding that if someone sees that happening, they should stop it.
In schools, children should be taught about the health hazards of smoking and it should be a part of their curriculum. “Parents should not smoke in the house either,” he added.
Van drivers, security guards and other school staff should also not smoke in front of children, he suggested. “Smoking is the first step to addiction,” he said, adding that we need to break the misconception that cigarettes reduce stress.
The whole society should become a watchdog to stop the sale of cigarettes to underage children, urged Qamar.