Tobacco kills 100,000 every year in Pakistan: seminar

KARACHI: Pakistan should implement already existing anti-tobacco laws to protect people from the tobacco epidemic, especially as the country has signed the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control — requiring signatories to post ‘health warnings describing the harmful effects of tobacco use’ on cigarette packets and recommending that pictures form part of the warnings.

This is what experts recommended at a seminar organised by Aga Khan University (AKU) in collaboration with the Pakistan Chest Society, the National Alliance for Tobacco Control and Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA) to commemorate World No Tobacco Day and its 2009 theme ‘Tobacco Health Warnings,’ APP reports.

‘Health warnings that include pictures have been proven to motivate cigarette smokers to quit and to positively impact those still not addicted,’ said Professor Javaid Khan, Head of Pulmonary Medicine, AKU.

Professor Khan said that around 100,000 deaths occur from tobacco use annually in Pakistan and over half of the adult population is addicted to it in some form or the other.

He made a strong call for immediate introduction of picture warnings on cigarette boxes, asserting that this would lead to a very positive impact on smokers and especially young people.

On similar lines, Shahzad Alam from WHO recommended that health warnings should have strong, clear language and must include pictures highlighting the health risk associated with tobacco use.

President PIMA Dr. Sohail Akhtar, pointed out that at the time of the Prophet (PBUH) tobacco was not available or used in that part of the world. Nevertheless, a number of general principles were laid down from which many laws are derived.

Second-hand smoke is an already proven risk factor for chronic obstructive lung disease, lung cancer, asthma as well as heart attacks.

Drawing on this, Consultant Chest Physician, Aga Khan University Hospital Dr Suleman Haque, said that lung cancer is the number one cause of deaths from cancer in Pakistani men and over 90per cent of such cases are the direct result of tobacco use.

He called for the retraction of the Ministry of Health’s statutory regulatory order which allows smoking at designated places in enclosed public areas, including hotels and restaurants, once again.

Citing an AKU research study conducted last year, Dr. Haque said that over half of Karachi’s university students were smoking tobacco through a shisha or water pipe; smoking a shisha for an hour was the same as smoking 100 cigarettes, he warned.

The role of health professionals in anti-tobacco campaigns cannot be over-emphasised: PMA President Dr. Aziz Khan and Head, Department of Chest Diseases, JPMC Dr. Nadeem Rizvi, both highlighted the role of family physicians in helping patients quit smoking.
Dr. Rizvi said that all doctors are morally bound to educate the public on health-related issues. Research shows that even brief, three-minute counselling by doctors on quitting smoking can bring about significant results.

It was unfortunate, he said, that tobacco use, gutka and pan masala form is on the rise, especially among children, resulting in a higher incidence of head, neck and mouth cancers.

Pakistan currently tops the global list of incidence rates for oral cancer.

An estimated 1,500 young people a day take up smoking, helped by aggressive marketing by tobacco companies.

Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine at AKU Dr Muhammad Irfan, said that city governments need to initiate an education campaign on tobacco and its hazards in schools and colleges and appealed for implementing the existing laws clearly prohibiting sale of tobacco products within 50 metres of educational institutions.

Dow University of Health Sciences’ medical student Owais Khan, representing SPASM—Students Promoting Anti-Smoking Measures—called for medical school curricula to include tobacco control and smoking cessation as a subject.

In the end, prizes were awarded to winners of a poster competition on Tobacco Health Warnings.

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