ISLAMABAD - The Pakistan Pediatrics Association has estimated that around 1,000 to 1,200 school-going children of six to 16-year age take up smoking every day in the country.

According to a report of the association, besides the new smokers, ex-smokers in the low socio-economic group reported spending 25 per cent of the total household income on this habit. The report focuses on the anti-smoking social marketing strategy in Pakistan with an aim to reduce smoking prevalence, especially among the youth. To reduce the prevalence of smoking and its associated cancers, immediate actions are required by public health authorities, the report suggested.

The trend of cigarette usage has been going upwards and, according to the World Health Organization, in Pakistan, the usage of cigarette smoking is increased by 30 per cent compared to 1998 figures. The WHO reported that a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship can decrease the consumption of tobacco products for about seven per cent provided all the other tobacco control measures are kept constant where as in some cases such intervention are found to decrease tobacco use up to 16 per cent.

In Pakistan, 19 per cent of adults of 18-year age and above smoke tobacco while each year, approximately 60,000 people die of tobacco-related diseases in the country. Among youth of 13-15 year age, around 34 per cent report being exposed to second-hand smoke in public places and 27 per cent report exposure at home. Project Coordinator, TheNetwork for Consumer Protection, Dr Sobia Faisal said that smoking was the single most avoidable risk factor for cancers.     “Majority of smokers know about this fact but it is difficult for them to give it up mainly in the face of widespread smoking advertisements by the tobacco industries,” she added.

She said that social marketing was an effective strategy to promote healthy attitudes and influence people to make real, sustained health behavior change by transiting through different stages which include precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.

Dr Sobia said that social marketing could influence smokers to voluntarily accept, reject, modify, or abandon their smoking behaviour.

In Pakistan, the smoking prevalence has been increasing, necessitating effective measures, she said.

She said that it was a high time to educate the country’s people about the hazards of tobacco, particularly school-going children to strive against promotional tactics adopted by the tobacco industry.

She said that raising tobacco taxes was one of the most effective tobacco prevention and control strategies. “Raising tobacco product prices decreases the prevalence of tobacco use, particularly among kids and young adults, and that tobacco tax increases produce substantial long-term improvements in health.” Dr Sobia urged for taking necessary action at all levels by the stakeholders concerned as several people were dying due to tobacco in the country while a big statistical graph of deaths was expected in future also.

She said, “This is time of great promise and challenge to ensure implementation of tobacco control policies and laws. Joint efforts are required to avoid from medical complications and deaths from tobacco use in the society, she added.

She stressed the need for efficacious implementation of tobacco control laws in the country and asked the authorities concerned to make proper strategies in preventing sale of tobacco to minors.

When contacted, an official from tobacco control cell said that Pakistan had ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control while the country had also implemented pictorial warnings on cigarette packs. He said that there was a plan to create awareness in citizens regarding negative effects of smoking and educating them about the tobacco control laws for proper implementation.