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KARACHI: Health experts have expressed concerns over unlatched violations of tobacco control laws and the sale of cigarettes in the country. A study by Pakistan National Heart Association found that 63 percent of packs collected for research were priced between 30 to 60 and 90 percent of them were locally manufactured.

"One can find an array of local brands, sold as low as Rs 20 per pack, openly across the country unchecked. This raises serious questions on the government's implementation efforts of tobacco control laws," said Prof Nadeem Rizvi, former head of department of chest medicine JPMC.

"Similarly there is no check on sale of loose cigarettes and selling cigarettes to minors. The ground situation is making a mockery of the government's health policies," he added.

It is pertinent to mention that with 80 billion sticks sold every year, Pakistan has become the largest market for illegal cigarettes in 16 Asian countries. Around half of the market consists of illegally sold cigarettes, violating tobacco control laws.

Nadeem Rizvi said cigarettes sold below the price set by the government are leading to an increase in smoking trend. Ease of availability is hindering efforts to keep cigarettes out of the public's reach.

He said the risk to the pulmonary system due to Covid-19 has increased and smoking is adding to it. Laws and policies designed to curb smoking are still failing to deliver results due to illegal sale of cigarettes.

According to experts, constraints on the government's public health policies are putting pressure on governments' health budgets, for which providing resources is a major challenge for the federal and provincial governments in the current economic situation.

According to the Federal Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease are collectively responsible for 68% of all deaths in Pakistan.

Illegal cigarette companies are luring young people to cigarettes through cigarette advertising, reward schemes and the sale of loose cigarettes at low prices. NCDs are causing 51% of the total burden of diseases, mostly in the young age group.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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