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LAHORE: Emphasizing the need for strengthening the tobacco control landscape in Pakistan, health professionals called for making collaborative efforts from the government, civil society and the public, to check the growing trends of smoking posing serious health hazards.

“Tobacco consumption presents a substantial public health dilemma in Pakistan, with roughly 20% of adults smoking cigarettes. This problem is especially severe among children and youth, with nearly 1 in 10 children aged 13-15 years reported to smoke tobacco,” they said.

In recent years, there has been significant progress in tobacco control in Pakistan. The “Big Tobacco, Tiny Targets” campaign, led by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) highlighted the prevalence of tobacco advertising near schools and playgrounds and its adverse impact on children and youth in the country. The campaign also called for stronger regulations to protect children from tobacco marketing.

While Pakistan has long grappled with the challenge of implementing effective tobacco control measures civil society groups and public health advocates have voiced their concerns about the consistent violation of tobacco control laws by tobacco manufacturers at various retail points across the nation.

The Society for Protection of Rights of the Child (SPARC) has urged the government to levy health-related charges on tobacco products to save children from the hazardous effects of tobacco intake.

According to the spokesperson of the society, the role of points-of-sale (POS) in tobacco advertising is critical in influencing potential and people who smoke, particularly among the youth.

Numerous studies have demonstrated a clear link between exposure to tobacco POS promotion and increased susceptibility to smoking among youth, leading to smoking experimentation, occasional smoking, and eventually regular smoking.

As part of the “Big Tobacco, Tiny Targets” campaign, trained data collectors monitored 268 tobacco retail outlets within 100 meters of 133 schools in eight cities, including Islamabad, Murree, Larkana, Peshawar, Hafizabad, Pindi Bhattian, Jalalpur Bhattian, and Shakar Dara.

The Institute for Global Tobacco Control (IGTC) revealed the research findings of this campaign identifying four common point-of-sale marketing tactics, seen both in Pakistan and globally.

Firstly, 94% of cigarettes were strategically placed near children’s favorite snacks and drinks, subtly linking tobacco products to familiar treats. Secondly, 95% of tobacco advertisements were prominently displayed at eye level for easy access by young minds.

Moreover, the presence of flavored cigarettes at these points-of-sale was concerning, as it could attract younger demographics, particularly children.

It may be noted that in response to the campaign’s study, the government of Pakistan approved a comprehensive TAPS ban [SRO 72(I)/2020] in 2020. This ban prohibits all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship (TAPS).

However, despite this progress, there are still challenges to overcome. A follow-up study in Dec 2021 by the IGTC found that compliance with the 2020 ban was low. This means that tobacco companies are still finding ways to reach young people with their marketing tactics.

As per statistics, over 22 million people in Pakistan smoke tobacco and the country witnesses a distressing rate of 163,600+ tobacco-related deaths each year.

The IGTC’s research presents compelling evidence that tobacco companies are still finding ways to target young individuals with their marketing tactics.

Given the situation, the government of Pakistan should consider investing in public education campaigns to increase awareness of the risks associated with tobacco use.

Experts believe that initiatives like “Big Tobacco, Tiny Targets” have set a benchmark for bringing the issue to the forefront, but there is still much work to be done.

Pakistan now stands at a crucial juncture, with the opportunity to emerge as a regional leader in adhering to the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Articles 13 and 16, which address tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, as well as sales to minors.

In addition, the country should implement MPOWER Strategies particularly measure “E” focusing on enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, which holds the potential to transform the nation’s tobacco landscape.

Such campaigns not only demonstrate that it is possible to raise awareness of the tobacco problem in the country but also show that the government is willing to take action to protect young people from tobacco marketing, they said.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023


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