LAHORE - The Punjab Government, in last 12 years, has failed to implement the Prohibition of Smoking Ordinance, after its promulgation in 2002.

Lack of interest on the part of people at helm of affairs in enforcement of the Anti Smoking Law is not only putting the health of passive smokers at risk but also increasing the number of smokers - mostly youth. Due to lack of enforcement, sale of cigarettes to underage smokers is on the rise while smokers can be seen puffing cigarettes everywhere - government and private offices, parks, public places including train and bus terminals - with impunity.

The situation is getting worse in educational institutions where the ratio of smoking cigarettes and sheesha is increasing among the students. Though the law imposes a fine up to Rs1,000 that is extendible up to Rs100,000 for repeating the offence and three-month imprisonment, not a single person has been convicted in last 12 years due to lack of interest and coordination among government functionaries.

About 28 per cent of the youth is addicted to smoking tobacco. It has become fashion for students to smoke sheesha at cafes. According to few surveys, 40 per cent of males and 8 per cent of females are regular smokers and as such Pakistan has the highest consumption of tobacco in South Asia. As per the relevant clauses of Prohibition of Smoking Ordinance 2002, tobacco smoking is banned at public places, government offices, educational and healthcare institutions, parks and public transport.

The anti-smoking law’s violation can be witnessed at public places, especially hospitals, educational institutions and in public transport, where it has become a permanent nuisance.

The law, aimed at promoting public health and a smoke-free environment, has had little effect in society which is evident from the fact that cigarettes are still being sold in close proximity of educational institutions. The Section 9 of the ordinance clamps complete prohibition on the sale of tobacco and related products, especially to minors, within 50 meters of an educational institution.

Though the law authorises public transport drivers and helpers to eject the violators, not a single case has been reported so far. Interestingly, most of the drivers can be seen smoking with impunity, causing huge inconvenience to passengers especially women. The administrations of educational institutions and hospitals also do not snub smokers on the premises. Instead of discouraging students, some teachers smoke in their presence and thus set a bad example. Any authorised officer like the members of parliament, local nazim, councilors, public transport and train drivers, airline cabin crew, a grade-20 or above government officer, heads of all institutions like hospitals, schools, colleges, universities, or a police officer not below the rank of sub-inspector, can take action against a person for violating the law.

Smoking is largely responsible for cancers of lung, oral cavity, larynx, bladder, pancreas, kidney, stomach and blood. In Pakistan, Lung Cancer is caused directly by tobacco in 90 per cent of cases, claiming lives of 100,000 people every year.

According to a report, tobacco use in Pakistan is on the rise and about 1,200 take up the habit every day. The death toll is rising rapidly, especially in low and middle-income countries.

The oncologists say tobacco is not only resulting in lungs cancer but also causing prostate, bladder and cancers in other reproductive organs among males and females. They say quitting the consumption of tobacco, which include both smoking and tobacco-chewing, can result in increase in the average lifespan. They claimed that oral cancer is the most common disease among tobacco users. Other causes including occupational hazards, pollution, obesity, inadequate intake of fruit and vegetables and too much exposure could also result in causing other cancers.

They also stressed the need of creating public and professional awareness regarding the early signs and symptoms of oral cancer.