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Pakistan alive to gravity of tobacco use, says Dr Faisal

Islamabad:Pakistan is not oblivious to the gravity of the tobacco epidemic. Stringent measures are being taken to curb tobacco use, with both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Finance actively considering proposals to raise tobacco taxation in the forthcoming fiscal budget.

The PM’s Special Assistant on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan extended an assurance to this effect while addressing a World No-Tobacco Day event held at the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) here Monday, with the participation of the Ministry of National Health Services and the World Health Organization (WHO). The signing of a Letter of Intent whereby thousands of PRCS volunteers will be trained to promote awareness about the hazards of tobacco use, was the highlight of the event.

Aside from Dr. Faisal, the event was attended by WHO Representative Dr. Palitha Mahipala, Chairman of PRCS Dr Abrar-ul-Haq, and Director of the Smoke-Free Cities Project Dr. Minhaj us Siraj, Deputy Director Programmes in the Ministry of Health Dr. Samra Mahar, and NPO Tobacco Control Shahzad Alam Khan, among others.

The tobacco epidemic kills nearly 8 million people globally ever year. More than 7 million of these deaths are related to direct tobacco use and around 1.2 million are caused by non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. According to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019, over 160,000 Pakistanis die of diseases attributable to tobacco use.

“We will continue to raise awareness and promote a smoke-free society by arranging counter-marketing campaigns, raising awareness against nicotine use, and empowering young people to engage in the fight against tobacco,” Dr. Faisal said, inviting all Pakistanis to contribute to safeguarding the health of coming generations.

Ibrar-ul-Haq said, PRCS will contribute to the cause through volunteers who will reach out to youth groups for awareness and counselling. The PRCS declared all its offices, campuses, and blood banks across Pakistan smoke-free.

Dr Palitha said, “Alarmingly, over 400 people are dying of tobacco use in Pakistan every single day. He lauded the efforts of the government for taking several crucial measures to control tobacco use. He too advocated for higher tobacco taxation. “There is a need to make cigarettes unaffordable,” he said, also pleading for implementation of health levy or health tax that could be utilized for health promotion. “The WHO has so far donated 10 open gyms and three indoor gyms to curb the epidemic of inactivity,” he stated.

Meanwhile, WHO, in collaboration with the Ministry of National Health Services, also organized a cycling rally-cum-walk to mark World No Tobacco Day. The event took place outside the WHO office, with Parliamentary Secretary on Health Dr. Nousheen Hamid as the chief guest. Scores of young doctors, representatives of youth organisations, and anti-tobacco activists participated in the activity with due adherence to social distancing protocols.

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