Islamabad - First national anti-tobacco mass media campaign to focus on the health harms of tobacco was launched yesterday.

The campaign features a Public Service Announcement (PSA) called “Tobacco Is Hollowing You Out,” that graphically highlights the many harmful illnesses caused by tobacco use, including lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and oral cancers. The PSA will be broadcasted on national TV channels to run during November and 30,000 posters will be distributed through health centres and schools across Pakistan. The communication campaign is implemented in collaboration with the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (MoH) with technical and financial support from World Lung Foundation (WLF).

The 30-second PSA is designed to turn tobacco users’ thoughts about quitting into active quit attempts by showing the real health harms of tobacco use. “Tobacco Is Hollowing You Out” graphically shows that tobacco causes damage to nearly every vital organ and tissue of the body.

It opens with the silhouette of a man smoking a bidi/cigarette and goes on to show the health harms of his habit, with images of a real human heart beating progressively faster, a healthy lung turning black, a cancerous mouth, rotting teeth, a cancerous throat, and clogged arteries that can cause stroke. The PSA ends with the message that “Tobacco Kills – Quit Today!” The concept was originally developed by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, extensively pre-tested, and used effectively in Mexico, Russia, Ukraine and Vietnam, among other countries.

Deputy Director Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Dr Samra Mazhar said: “We thank World Lung Foundation for supporting the Ministry in launching this first of its kind campaign on tobacco control in Pakistan. This campaign will bring our country into line with other countries which are showing young people the truth about tobacco. The message in the campaign is clear. The message encourages smokers and other tobacco users to seriously consider their tobacco use and Quit Today.”

The Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) Pakistan (2014) found that 31.8 per cent of adult men and 5.8 per cent of women use tobacco in any form; 22.2 per cent of men and 2.1 per cent of women currently smoke tobacco. While nearly 88 per cent of smokers believe that smoking causes serious illness, only a quarter (24.7 per cent) had tried to quit in the past year and only 22.3 per cent planned to or were thinking about quitting. According to The Tobacco Atlas, tobacco use is the cause of 12.2 per cent of deaths among men and 4.5 per cent of deaths among women, killing over 2,000 Pakistanis every week.

Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President, Policy and Communications, World Lung Foundation commented, “The recent GATS report confirmed that smokers in Pakistan are aware that smoking causes harm but too few are translating this into an intention to quit. Graphic campaigns like “Tobacco Is Hollowing You Out” show the specific harms of tobacco use in a powerful way that helps to encourage smoking cessation and deter youth from starting to smoke tobacco”.

Similar campaign in another country encouraged more than seven (7) million tobacco users to make a quit attempt, she added. “The campaign will start to create much greater awareness and debate around the harms of tobacco, in advance of the implementation of large new graphic health warnings on tobacco packs. Real synergies will be achieved and lives saved by using anti-tobacco mass media campaigns and graphic warnings on tobacco packaging – countering misinformation from the tobacco industry, raising awareness of the actual harms of tobacco across the population, deterring youth from initiating smoking and encouraging smokers to quit. With concerted government action, Pakistan can combat the growing tobacco epidemic.”

Research has shown that mass media campaigns and large graphic pack warnings are among the most effective means to encourage people to stop using tobacco. Hard-hitting campaigns and images can compel tobacco users to quit, increase knowledge of the health risks of tobacco use, and promote behavior change in both smokers and non-smokers. They are featured in the World Health Organisation’s MPOWER strategies to reduce tobacco consumption. MPOWER strategies are endorsed and promoted by the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, of which World Lung Foundation is a principal partner.