Clip_204Tobacco use has emerged as a serious health challenge in Pakistan that now stands among the top four countries of the world with rapid increase in tobacco market.

Tobacco kills nearly six million people each year in the world, of which more than 600,000 are non-smokers dying from passive smoking. In Pakistan, they say, an estimated 40 percent males and nine per cent females are smokers and the number is increasing day by day.

The Asia Pacific region represents the fastest growing tobacco market in the world with Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam being the top four countries reporting rapid increase in tobacco use. And to make matters worst, the government comes under pressure exerted by tobacco companies on various issues, such as pressure to withdraw the decision of increasing the size of pictorial health warning on cigarette packs.

The government must implement its decision since a pictorial health warning on a cigarette box is a proven strategy to prevent younger people from taking up this powerful addiction that is estimated to kill over 100,000 people every year in the country.

Pakistan spent Rs 5 billion every year on betel nuts imports while Pakistanis wasted Rs200 billion on smoking in 2011, according to a State of Bank of Pakistan report.

The speakers regretted the participation of a diplomat in a lobbying meeting (held in March) where the British American Tobacco (BAT) officials intended to persuade the government of Pakistan to reverse the decision that would mandate large graphic health warning on cigarette packs. This is a breach of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to which the UK is a signatory.

Ironically, the UK parliament has passed legislation in 2015 to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products to reduce their appeal, particularly among children.

The Pakistan Tobacco Company was established by BAT in 1947 as Pakistan was viewed as an emerging market with large growth potential.

Illicit tobacco trade in Pakistan was 20% of the total cigarette market and main source of smuggling was the Afghan transit trade. The fact that these illicit products were untaxed, unregulated, carried no health warnings and priced cheaper made them more popular in developing countries like Pakistan.

The Pakistani government addicted to the tobacco revenue needs to understand that the revenue of Rs75 billion it generates from the tobacco industry every year is far less than over Rs100 billion that the public spend on treating diseases caused by smoking.

The Federal Board of Revenue statistics state that Pakistan suffered an annual loss of Rs7.4 billion due to illicit tobacco trade,  but prospects of the government controlling the illicit trade appear bleak.

To make matters worst, the tobacco industry is involved in hidden promotional activities. To make matters worst, the ban on tobacco advertising and promotion is not comprehensive in the country and there is a dire need to completely prohibit tobacco advertisement and promotion.

Smoking is banned in indoor offices, restaurants, health-care and educational facilities and on public transportation in Pakistan. But, one can see that there is hardly any implementation of the ban.

Approximately 50 percent of smokers die prematurely, on an average 14 years earlier than non-smokers. Quitting smoking is arguably the most important preventable risk factor for cardiovascular disease.