June 8 - 14, 2009

Every year, 'World No Tobacco Day' is observed across the world including Pakistan on May 31 in a bid to create awareness among the people about hazardous effects of smoking. This year, 'World No Tobacco Day' was observed with the theme of "Tobacco Health Warnings".

Health professionals told PAGE that tobacco, which is one of the leading preventable causes of death worldwide, is responsible for the death of one in 10 adults, estimating over 5 million deaths each year. "If current smoking patterns continue, it may cause over 10 million deaths each year by 2020, they said.

Tobacco use and its ill effects will eventually kill half the people that smoke today that are over 700 million people, they opined.

It may be mentioned that one-third of the world's smokers reside in the Western Pacific Region where two people die each day from tobacco-related diseases. This region also has the highest rate of male smoking prevalence and fastest increase of tobacco uptake by women and young people. WHO had already warned that tobacco use could kill one billion people worldwide this century, with 80% of those deaths in developing countries. Worst hit will be WHO's Western Pacific Region, where it is estimated that two people die every minute from tobacco-related diseases. Compared with other WHO regions, the Western Pacific has the greatest number of smokers, the highest rates of male smoking prevalence, and the fastest increase of tobacco uptake by women and young people.

According to Dr Masood Sheikh, Chairman Pakistan Medical Society (PMS) tobacco smoke pollution is also known as second-hand smoke (SHS) and environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) that is contamination of the air by tobacco smoke. "Exposure to such smoke is sometimes referred to as involuntary (or passive) smoking. Exposure to tobacco smoke pollution involves inhaling carcinogens and other toxic components in the mixture of mainstream smoke exhaled by the smoker and side-stream smoke released from a smoldering cigarette or other smoking device (cigar, pipe, bidi, etc.), he said.

Talking about the economic loss of tobacco use, he said that around 400 billion dollars are spent on purchase of cigarettes, while economic burden caused due to smoking related diseases are manifold and equally devastating. A report also estimates that the use of tobacco results in an annual global net loss of over US $300 thousand million, a third of this loss being in developing countries, he said. Nevertheless, higher smoking prevalence means that poorer bears more of the burden of both the health costs and the economic costs of tobacco.

According to him, tobacco and poverty are inextricably linked. Many studies have shown that in the poorest households in some low-income countries as much as 10% of total household expenditure is on tobacco. This means that these families have less money to spend on basic items such as food, education, and health care. In addition to its direct health effects, tobacco leads to malnutrition, increased health care costs, and premature death. It also contributes to a higher illiteracy rate, since money that could have been used for education is spent on tobacco instead.

Highlighting diseases burden linked with use of tobacco in Pakistan, he was of the view that the incidence of heart diseases would increase manifold if present trend of smoking is not checked through coercive measures. Over 150,000 people suffered heart attacks in Pakistan every year while approximately 33,000 of them died in the first attack. There are around 600,000 to 800,000 people diagnosed with heart diseases every year in Pakistan. Twenty percent of them die in early stages while 30 percent die within one year, he said.

It may also be mentioned that the Government of Pakistan promulgated 'Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-smoking Health Ordinance' under which smoking in public places and sale of cigarette to children below the age of 18 years are prohibited. However, provisions of the Ordinance are being not implemented in letter and spirit, which poses a big question mark on efforts aimed at checking the growing menace of smoking in the country. On the other hand, smuggling of cigarettes is causing huge loss to the national kitty.