COVID-19 & World No Tobacco Day


By: Asad Khan Jadoon (Tobacco Control Activist)

COVID-19 has gripped the world and cast it ominous claws all over the planet earth. Deaths are everywhere, numbers of new victims are also soaring. Corona pandemic is a danger but tobacco epidemic is more perilous then COVID (WHO used the term epidemic for tobacco). Corona virus will surely die down in coming months, while tobacco will keep poisoning the veins and arteries of mankind for the decades to come. Tobacco will be playing havoc on the life of its user in the shape of TB, Strokes, Cancer and Heart attack.

Every year WHO and governments across the globe celebrate 31 May as World No Tobacco Day under the banner of UNO. Workshops , conferences , rallies are staged to mark the importance of this day. This year 31 May passed in a bit silence, as this day was overshadowed by COVID19. Although press releases were issued, articles published in newspapers and documentaries on aired on TV to keep the cause animate but scare of corona has gripped every health segment so badly that they remained stuck in counter-corona campaigns.

A pandemic has its natural life span and cycle afterward it evaporates away. Spanish flue, plague etc are stories of past and by the grace of almighty Allah soon COVID-19 would be in the books/history. Darkest nights end in shining morning, calamities, catastrophes do come to an end and same would be the fate of corona.

Tobacco is single largest preventable cause of deaths in the world. There are millions of deaths annually worldwide due to the use of tobacco. According to WHO report published in 2008, tobacco epidemic killed 100 million people worldwide in 20th century and it is estimated that one billion deaths would occur in 21st century because of tobacco use. Tobacco industry if declared as disease vector by World Health authorities because 18 types of Cancer, heart disease, strokes, TB etc are caused by tobacco.

In Pakistan situation regarding tobacco prevalence and hazards is grim. More than one hundred thousand Pakistanis are killed by tobacco every year which means 300 hundred deaths daily. 5000 Pakistanis are admitted to hospital every day. More alarming is its prevalence in children i-e 1200 hundred Pakistani children between ages 6 to 15 begin smoking every day.

Government of Pakistan is signatory to UN Convention FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control). FCTC is multifaceted international legal instrument designed to reduce tobacco related deaths and disease around the world. FCTC requires concerted efforts from all parties to curb the usage of tobacco product. In order to fulfill international obligations Pakistan has made its best efforts.

Most significant are 1: Pakistan established Tobacco Control Cells in Federal Capital and four provincial headquarters plus pilot districts.

2: A strict ban was imposed on tobacco product advertisement in print and electronic media (I count it as a vital achievement, because couple of years ago print and electronic media were full of tobacco ads)

3: National tobacco policy is framed

4: Hundreds of awareness/ orientations sessions held all across the country in which thousands of people participated  

5: Many important public places all over the country are declared as “Smoke Free”

6: Cased registered against the violators of tobacco control laws

In Khyber Pakhtunkha a comprehensive law regarding tobacco control is framed and tabled in provincial assembly soon it will be passed by the assembly. In this regard Provincial Coordinator Tobacco Control Cell KPK Mr Muhammd Ajmal Shah deserves praise as he leads Tobacco Control in very difficult scenario because tobacco crop is cultivated in the province and tobacco industry has high stakes in the region.

Despite of all these achievement I would say a little has been done and a lot is due. Tobacco industry is amongst the most very powerful interest groups of Pakistan while tobacco control workers are the weakest whistle blowers of the country. It is high time for the government to come forward and paly on front foot to save the innocent lives of its people. Synergetic efforts are need of time, health department, WHO, NGOs, philanthropist can play very pivotal role in containing the menace of tobacco. Here at this juncture of time government of Pakistan has most important role to play. We request to PM of Pakistan to come forward and lead from the front curb the tobacco and save the life.

In the end i would like to put forward Some recomendations for curbing the usage of tobacco products

1: Federal Govt should priorities Tobacco control through sustainable programs

2: Effective laws be made at federal and provincial level and special task force be estabished for implementation of these laws

3: Provincial Governments should frame tobacco control policy in line with FCTC

4: lastly sale of tobacco product shall be ragularize by strict enforcement of tobacco vendor act. In this regard retail sale shall be through licenced outlet.

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