Strict measures must be taken to implement laws banning smoking indoors in all public places, stated members of the National Alliance for Tobacco Control (NATC) at a meeting held at Aga Khan University (AKU). This would be in line with the Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers Health Ordinance, 2002.
Dr Javaid Khan, Chairman of NATC, Pakistan, and Head of Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, AKU, said that the government's recent announcement to allow designated smoking areas in restaurants, hotels and other public places is going to weaken the implementation of the ordinance. He said that t he single most important step the government can take to control the tobacco epidemic in the country is to ensure that all public places are completely smoke-free indoors. Dr Khan regretted that the tobacco industry in Pakistan has been given a free hand to promote their products, which can destroy people's health and resources, and appealed to NGOs working in the health sector to step forward and educate society about the hazards of tobacco use. “Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of morbidity and mortality in the country. Implementation of clean air laws have been shown to decrease deaths associated with tobacco use in the developed world. Such laws should be strictly implemented in Pakistan also,” said Dr Khan. He added that tobacco is a major risk factor for lung cancer, heart attack, strokes and other fatal diseases. According to WHO estimates, 5.4 million people died last year because of tobacco. This death toll is expected to rise to 10 million per year by the year 2025, unless preventive measures are taken.
Mr Shahzad Alam, representative of the World Health Organization (WHO), Pakistan, expressed concern over the tobacco industry's attempts to change existing anti-tobacco laws in the country, which prohibit smoking in all indoor public places. He said that WHO, along with the Pakistan Chest Society, the American Cancer Society and other organisations have already recommended to the government that all indoor public places be smoke-free. He criticised the government's announcement to allow designated smoking areas in public places.
Dr Ahmad Suleman Haque, Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine at AKU, explained that indoor spaces should be completely smoke free because toxins circulate within closed air-conditioned rooms causing even non-smokers to inhale tobacco smoke, exposing them to serious health risks. He said that research has shown that second hand smoke is linked to lung cancer, heart attacks, asthma and pneumonia as well as other diseases.
Dr Mosavir Ansari, President, Pakistan Chest Society, Sindh, said that doctors, nurses and paramedical staffs are role models and should educate patients about the harmful effects of tobacco and its related products. Dr Syed Ahmar Hamid, Secretary-General of the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association, underscored the importance of media campaigns against tobacco. He suggested that the Ministry of Education should introduce topics about the harmful effects of tobacco on health in the curriculum to create awareness among the younger generation. Engineer Naveed Ahmad from the Quran Academy said that the use of tobacco and its related products is absolutely prohibited according to Islamic teachings. He urged religious scholars to educate people about the ill effects of tobacco in light of religious teachings.
NATC members unanimously passed a resolution to request the government to maintain existing anti-tobacco laws and to take appropriate steps for the implementation of tobacco control laws in the country, including increased taxes on tobacco products, a total ban on smoking in all indoor public places and pictorial health warnings on cigarettes packets. Mrs Seerat Shahina, Director-General, Health Education, Sindh Ministry of Health and Dr Hussain Bux Kolachi, President, Goth Sudhar Sangat, along with members of various NGOs working in Sindh also attended the meeting. Mr Noor Ali, a survivor of head and neck cancer, highlighted the need for a rehabilitation centre for cancer patients in Pakistan.