Despite the global campaign against smoking, cigarettes are still making their way into the hands of the most vulnerable. As reported in this paper on Wednesday, at a recent moot in Karachi, activists stated that according to figures compiled by the Pakistan Pediatrics Association, around 1,000 to 1,200 children between the ages of six and 16 are taking up smoking every day in the country. This is a staggering figure by all means. An expert pointed out at the event that nicotine can have damaging effects on the adolescent brain. This means that by allowing children easy access to tobacco, we are adding to all the other impediments we have placed in the way of their healthy growth. Activists also pointed out that the state has been giving tax breaks to big tobacco firms by placing them in lower tax tiers.

Meanwhile, anti-tobacco groups are up in arms — and rightly so — over the fact that the prime minister on Tuesday accepted a donation of Rs5m from a major tobacco firm towards the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams fund. It was pointed out that under a WHO protocol — the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to which Pakistan is a signatory — representatives of the state cannot meet and receive funds from tobacco firms, even under the cover of corporate social responsibility.

The prime minister is himself an anti-tobacco activist, while accepting funds from big tobacco would contravene Pakistan’s legal commitments. The state should then refrain from taking money from cigarette manufacturers in future. In fact, the government should work to increase taxes on tobacco products.

And immediate efforts need to be made to prevent minors from having access to tobacco products. By looking the other way as large numbers of youngsters start lighting up each day, society is allowing a health disaster to unfold. There must be stronger penalties for all those who sell cigarettes to children, while efforts must also be stepped up to make public places free of second-hand smoke.

M. AHSAN BUKSH,

Karachi, May 5.a