Pakistan stands at the brink of a devastating health and economic disaster. The steep rise in the use of tobacco amongst the youth, especially young girls and women is depriving the country of a healthy workforce while increasing the burden of disease on an already overburdened health sector, warned Aga Khan University Hospital experts at a public awareness session held to mark World No Tobacco Day.
“Majority of the youth in Pakistan start smoking at a very young age and most of them become habitual smokers before the age of 18,” said Dr Javaid Khan, Consultant Pulmonologist.
“The fact that approximately 1,200 children start smoking daily represents a huge health and economic impact and although Pakistan became a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in June 2004, it lags behind the rest of the world in its tobacco control efforts.”
The role of society in combating the scourge of tobacco cannot be underestimated and it is only by strictly discouraging tobacco use in and around homes, at work and enforcing existing anti-smoking laws can the country hope to cope with this growing epidemic.
Talking about the global theme for 2013 ‘Ban Tobacco Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship’, Dr Khan commented, “For decades, advertising, promotion and sponsorship have been shown to increase the consumption of virtually any product, yet the tobacco industry continues to deny this link. It claims that these activities neither convince smokers to smoke more nor persuade non-smokers to start; they merely support healthy competition and motivate existing smokers to switch brands”.
Discrediting the myth that the tobacco industry is beneficial for the economy, Dr Khan pointed out that the burden of the direct and indirect consequences of smoking, such as healthcare costs, loss of workdays and productive years due to early deaths far outstrip the revenue generated from taxes and employment created by the tobacco industry.
Around 4,700 different noxious chemicals are released when a single cigarette is lit. The adverse effects of these chemicals include systemic cancers, peripheral vascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Other side effects of smoking include impotence and infertility, pregnancy related problems, kidney disorders, increased vulnerability to infection and many forms of cancer.
“Individuals who smoke cigarettes are 12 times more likely to die from lung cancer, two to four times more likely to develop coronary heart disease, twice as likely to have a stroke, and 10 times more likely to die from chronic obstructive lung disease”, warned Dr Ali Zubairi, Consultant Pulmonologist.
Although many people are aware of health issues involved in smoking, they are unable to quit due to nicotine addiction. Bushra Masood, Smoking Cessation Counsellor, reassured the audience that addictions can be overcome with the help of cessation experts as well as through various medications. “However, willpower and personal determination to break free from the addiction play the most crucial role,” she added.