Is Pakistan ready to pay the cost of a complete ban on smoking?

Published: July 4, 2014
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Although smoking in public places is banned yet violators are rarely penalised. PHOTO: AFP

The Pakistan Paediatric Association estimates that about 12,000 adolescents become addicted to smoking every day. If this seems like another passable statistic, let me confess that I smoked my first cigarette when I was only eight-years-old. Most of my childhood was spent in an environment clouded by thick smoke of the cancer sticks, yet I was always taught that smoking was bad.

The mind of a child can never grasp why something his male relatives indulge in so often can be harmful and I was no different. Not until I took up smoking in my late teens and observed examples of smokers who struggled with numerous health problems. But it was a moment too late and much to my chagrin, I’ve struggled to quit smoking until recently. I battle every day and still slip at times but getting back on track is how a person’s strength of resolve is tested.

Unlike marijuana that has been legalised in states like Washington and Colorado because of its proven medicinal benefits, there is an absolute consensus on the harmful effects of smoking the world over. Countries like Australia are gradually enforcing stricter bans on the growing and selling of tobacco by introducing standardised packaging and indelible health warnings that reduce its appeal to consumers. Britain has plans to go a step further. British Medical Association (BMA) has recently voted to ban smoking for children born after 2000. This has not yet taken the form of a legislation but the chances of that happening are high, considering it was the BMA that pushed for getting smoking in public places banned in 2002. The decision was reached after an understanding that mostly teenagers and young children make uninformed choices of getting into the habit of smoking that eventually turns into an addiction.

This seems like a far cry compared to Pakistan which may have anti-tobacco legislations but no regulatory body to implement it. Over 0.1 million people lose their life to tobacco related diseases annually, yet the Tobacco Control Cell (TCC) formed to discourage its use is working without permanent staff for the last two years. It provides ample evidence of the government’s callous attitude to the cause and explains the rampant tobacco use. According to a WHO report, Pakistan experienced a 30% increase of smokers in the past decade. Needless to mention, Pakistan Tobacco Company recorded 202% higher profits this year compared to the last one.

What is the way out of this quandary?

First and foremost, not just the TCC needs to be strengthened but anti-tobacco legislations should be implemented in letter and spirit. Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-smokers Health Ordinance 2002 forbids selling tobacco to minors yet we see ‘khokhas’ and shops unabashedly selling cigarettes to school going children with impunity.

Proponents propose a blanket ban on tobacco similar to what Bhutan recently tried. Chewing or smoking tobacco has now become a punishable offence with up to three years imprisonment without bail in the absence of a tax and import duties’ receipt. This has come at the cost of an expanding black market where cigarettes are sold for exponential prices, as high as $2 for 10 cigarettes.

Is Pakistan ready to pay the cost of a complete ban on smoking?

We all know what happened when alcohol was banned. People adopted other alternatives; heroine consumption experienced a sharp increase and the black market for alcohol saw a boom. Irony is alcohol is still home-delivered quicker than food. Also, let’s not forget how the country had to face a cut in revenue generation through taxes.

Discouraging smoking and tobacco use is an inevitable need of the hour but it cannot be an isolated attempt by a single body like the TCC. An integrated, multi-faceted strategy has to be collectively evolved by and for all the stakeholders of the society. The legislature can legislate but its implementation has to come through sincere efforts of the executive. The civil society has to be mobilised to initiate mass campaigns educating public on the dangers of first-hand and passive smoking.

Although smoking in public places is banned yet violators are rarely penalised. Fines should be imposed along with heavy taxes on the sale of each cigarette pack. This will serve the purpose of discouraging people to buy cigarettes and also collect revenue for the government.

Under-age cigarette sale must be prohibited and adult smokers should avoid lighting one in front of children which can desensitise them to the notion of smoking. Some might think it is too late for them to quit but the least they can do is avoid a potential rise in young smokers. Above all, it must be treated and resourced as a prolonged strategy that requires persistent iron-will from all stakeholders to bear the long-term dividends of a healthy population.

Sabeer.Lodhi

Sabeer Lodhi

The author is studying at Monash University, Melbourne. He is a student and supporter of human rights with a focus on gender equality, minority rights and feminism. He tweets as @sabeerlodhi (twitter.com/sabeerlodhi)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Hamza

    Washington and Colorado did not legalize marijuana because of medicinal benefits. They legalized it because it was impossible to control the drug abuse. Also this way they can tax it and make millions of dollars, whilst at the same time bringing the growers and sellers of the drug under the tax net.Recommend

  • Raza

    You smoke? Recommend

  • ab

    There should be difference between Pakistan and othersRecommend

  • zahra

    What nonsense? So everyone can be right but we have to be wrong just to be different?

    agreed with Hamza..and even for alcohol..legalise it and tax it. Not that people who drink do not drink since it is banned!Recommend

  • Genesys

    Is Pakistan ready to pay the cost of a complete ban on smoking?
    There is a msitake in the headling.it should read …Is Paksitan rady to benefit from the cost of a complete abn on smoking?Recommend

  • Zia

    On a serious note, is it the government’s responsibility to ensure my health and safety? Should governments be allowed to make such micro-level decisions for individual citizens? Its not impossible to make the argument that it could be, but does that not impinge personal rights and freedoms? If I know the costs of smoking yet still want to, it remains my educated choice. When I smoke in a public place with other individuals, I infringe upon their personal space, which makes a case for banning smoking there. Tax them bloody if you want to get economic benefits out of smoking as US and Canada and a lot of other countries do. It inhibits smoking. So yes, thank you for the last part of the post, that has made more sense to me than all of the other blog posts on Tribune. ever. Their interface keeps bringing me back to it, their news is poor. Yes, you at Tribune reading this comment, you’re terrible.Recommend

  • Asad

    Smoking also is equally haraam as drinking. Recommend

  • friend

    lol..
    you are funnyRecommend

  • privali

    Ban on alcohol has prevented most Pakistanis from its effects. Writer should refrain from trying to follow hidden agenda for alcohol lobby, alcohol and anything to do with it is away from mercy of Allah … Western societies are suffering because of alcohol like no other problem and despite all stats and research mainly because of Christian culture are unable to stop this curse. More people die in north america every year because of alcohol than on Sept 11, besides the very many other crimes and other social evilsRecommend

  • Shariz Khan

    Bans never work. Demand will always meet supply somehow. So rather than trying to cut the supply, cut the demand. We need more education in our schools on the harmful effects of smoking.Recommend

  • proud pakistani

    I am an adult and I want to smoke outdoor. What is your problem? and who are you to force me to stop smoking? It is a free choice I made. And yes, it might kill you one day. But fried food, soda drinks full of sugar and out over-polluted cities will us too one day. Just live and let live and please do not ask for the government to dictate how we live and limit my daily freedom.Recommend

  • unbelievable

    You want to kill yourselves with cigarettes – go right ahead. But don’t expect me to subsidize your medical bills or have to breath your smoke. I think the USA approach seems to be a decent compromise – most States place restrictions on where you can smoke and acknowledge that they end up paying the medical bills for many smokers so they impose a significant tax on the cancer sticks. They also place age restrictions on who can buy cigarettes – banned TV ads – and even run TV commercials illustrating the health risks of smoking (paid for by the smoking industry). I’ve been told that a pack of cigarettes in the states is almost $5 – ouch.Recommend

  • Sabeer Lodhi

    My problem is that the smoke coming our of your mouth and cigarette is harmful to for me and my loved ones. My problem is that while I acknowledge and respect your freedom, it shouldn’t come at the cost of somebody else’s life. The examples you gave of soda drinks and fried food – how do those impact a third person but my own body and health? Cigarette smoke does! It is the government’s duty to maintain social equilibrium and ‘discourage’ ills in the society, not ban them. That’s the point I make.

    Live and let live but not at the cost of others health and life!Recommend

  • marshal is back

    According to your logic shouldnt the gov ban automobiles for they also emitt dangerous smoke ..probably more dangerous than cigarettes.Recommend

  • salman

    That truly is one of the most retarded comments I have ever read. Automobiles are not banned but harmful smoke is. People are not banned but smoking is! P.s, It IS illegal for cars to emit dangerous smoke and is punishable by law. The only legally allowed contents of vehicular smoke are water (H2O) and Carbon dioxide (CO2).Recommend