ISLAMABAD: The government intends to increase the levy on tobacco products by 30 percent in the upcoming budget in a bid to discourage smoking.

This was stated by Muhammad Aftab Ahmed, project manager Tobacco Control Cell Ministry of National Health Services and Regulation while speaking at an event organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) on World Tobacco Day.

He further said the federal government is working on introducing the first smoke-free model for youth in the federal capital to promote a “no smoking” culture among the juvenile and youth.

Ahmed said the SRO 72 of 2020 has not been implemented completely which could help remove cigarettes from the racks of the shopkeepers, whereas, presently the focus is on reducing advertisements of tobacco products, increasing taxes, and embracing a paradigm shift over a tobacco-free generation.

Abdul Rahman, director operations Punjab Food Authority (PFA) said without strict penalisation and penalty to the violators no propitious outcomes were possible in stemming smoking among the youth.

“Media and communications are important tools to create an impact on hazards of smoking and guiding the youth to shun misleading concepts on opting smoking through health risks. Moreover, the universities should abstain from offering leniency towards smoking on its premises,” he said. The major consumption of tobacco was at educational institutions that could be managed through stringent punishments like business closures, he said.

Syed Ali Wasif Naqvi, Head of Policy, Advocacy and Outreach, SDPI in his presentation said as per the 2022 data, over 37 million adolescents aged 13-15 globally use tobacco. “In the WHO European Region, 11.5 per cent of boys and 10.1 per cent of girls in this age group are tobacco users. Notably, electronic cigarettes and nicotine pouches are increasingly popular among youth, with 12.5 per cent of adolescents in the European Region using e-cigarettes in 2022 compared to two per cent of adults,” he said.

Naqvi mentioned that with over 1,200 children initiating tobacco use daily in Pakistan, and permeation of electronic tobacco and nicotine products in schools, colleges, and universities, the statistics from Pakistan are even more alarming. The tobacco industry, he said targets youth to replace millions of customers lost annually to death or cessation. The industry employs appealing products and advertising tactics aimed at children and adolescents, using social media and streaming platforms, he added.

Dr MinhajusSiraj, CEO Health Syndicate said the tobacco industry was engaging with children through labour in the tobacco fields, whereas, those kids were not able to enter schools to acquire education for life. He also mentioned “green leaf disease”.

He underlined that the exposure of adolescents to dangerous chemicals in tobacco processing was causing severe health complications among them. He added that child protection from the tobacco industry needs to be started from the fields.

Dr Siraj underlined that SRO 2024 implementation needs to be done in true letter and spirit, whereas, his organisation during the advocacy and awareness efforts had approached mosques to flag the issue in Friday sermons, and also in 2020 it was highlighted in Makkah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s HarmainSharifain (The Two Holy Mosques).

He pointed out that the online sale of tobacco products was a major challenge at present as it was going unchecked. “Lancet journal’s study claimed that developed countries were involved in suppressing less developed countries achieving positive results in smoking reduction efforts. Pakistan is among the 28 countries where the tobacco ending game is near and also leading in Eastern Mediterranean region in 2023,” Dr Siraj mentioned. He highlighted that without the civil society’s support no achievement in this cause was possible.

Dr Amina Khan, executive director The Initiative said, “Generally 1 out of 3 people die of tobacco who do not quit tobacco use or smoking, whereas, 1,200 children between the age of 6-15 start smoking every day in Pakistan. Two out of five adult smokers start smoking at the age of 10 which rings alarm bells for all to start focusing on the toddlers.”

She noted that the policy and implementation of Pakistan was ranked very well globally, whereas, it should be kept abreast with the emerging trends of the tobacco industry as modern products like vapes, velo, and smokeless tobacco products are introduced that do not fall under the legislation.

To protect youth, she said the availability of single cigarettes, advertisement, and prevention needs to be given a high priority in the enforcement, policy, and awareness endeavours. “Youth engagement in policy-making is important to devise policy actions that are well guided and properly conceived in line with the ground realities to bear optimum results,” she added.

Dr WaseemJanjua, research fellow SDPI said the tobacco industry was increasing misleading tactics through advertisements promoting tobacco products that were trapping the innocent youth of the country. He said according to a study in the US, the tobacco industry was pumping in $7.62 billion in lieu oftobacco-promoting advertisements that indicated the massive magnitude of capital investment to mislead the masses on smoking.

PANAH Secretary General Sanaullah Ghumman said the responses to challenges and crises mattered in the fight against tobacco risk and other issues. He added that awareness and advocacy were an expensive and time-consuming laborious task that could be replaced with the option of increasing penalties for smoking and tobacco usage amongst children which could more encouraging outcomes.

“Over 100 countries have increased taxes on cigarettes making it inaccessible for children that can help protect the 1,200 children at risk,” he said.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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