Islamabad - In Pakistan, 23.9 million adults (19 per cent) use tobacco products and out of these 15.6 million (12 per cent) smoke tobacco and 9.6 million (8 per cent) use smokeless tobacco products, according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) launched Thursday. The use of tobacco products is higher among men (31.8 per cent) than women (5.8 per cent).    

The survey was conducted by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), in coordination with the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHSRC), World Health Organisation (WHO), US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and RTI International. Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had provided the financial support to carry out this task.

The launch coincided with the World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) marked on May 31, highlighting the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocating for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption.

Federal Minister for National Health Services Regulation & Coordination Saira Afzal Tarar launched the survey first of its kind in Pakistan. With this Pakistan joined the club of 27 countries in the world which have conducted this survey.

The household survey of persons 15 years of age and older reveals that 29 per cent smokers in Pakistan start smoking before the age of 17 years and 3 in 10 persons who currently smoke thought about quitting because of a pictorial health-warning label.

The statistics suggest that overall 15.6 million adults (12.4 per cent) smoke tobacco and the prevalence of smoking is 22.2 per cent among men while 2.1 per cent among women. Tobacco smoking is higher in rural areas (13.9 per cent) than in urban areas (10 per cent). And about 9.6 million adults (7.7 per cent) use smokeless tobacco products.

Overall, daily cigarette smokers smoke an average of 13.6 cigarettes per day, with males’ smoking 13.7 and females’ smoking 10.3 cigarettes per day, respectively. The minister sharing findings disclosed that 7 in 10 adults (16.8 million) who worked indoors were exposed to tobacco smoke at the workplace and 9 in 10 adults (21.2 million adults) who visited restaurants were exposed to tobacco smoke. Over half of men and 45.7 per cent of women were exposed to second hand smoke at home even 37.6 per cent adults were exposed to second hand smoke in a healthcare facility. Nearly, 8 in 10 adults (49.2 million) who used public transport were exposed to tobacco smoking.

According to the study, on average, a cigarette smoker spends Rs767.3 per month on manufactured cigarettes and consumes 4,500 cigarettes annually.  Speaking about monetary burden of smoking, she quantified that average amount spent by smokers on 20 manufactured cigarettes was Rs40.9, while same amount of rupees can buy approximately 1 kilogram (2.2. pounds) of potatoes or five eggs or one big bread.

She observed that awareness level among adults was quite high as 85.8 per cent believed that smoking caused serious illness. “Thus, there is a need to sensitise adults about the tobacco control laws and then enforce them by the stick as recommended by the study,” she opined.  

Referring to the theme of this year of World No Tobacco Day 2015, “Stop illicit trade of tobacco products”, she said, “Illicit products are untaxed and unregulated, with no health warnings, packaging or labeling requirements, which makes them cheaper, more readily available and accessible, especially to young and poor people.”

“The ministry has written to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to form special policies to curb smuggling of cigarettes and bring in tax net all tobacco products like Naswar, Gutka, Pan Masala, Mainpuri etc.,” she informed.

She also revealed the recommendations proposed by the tobacco taxation working group and sent to FBR also include withdrawal of all exemptions of tobacco taxes provided to Navy, President of Pakistan, the President of Azad Jammu & Kashmir and the Governors of the Provinces, members of their families and guests.