Health activists have urged government to impose ban on innovative products such as nicotine pouches, e-cigarettes and heated tobacco devices in order to save Pakistan’s future. This demand was raised at the launch ceremony of “Big Tobacco – Tiny Targets” – a survey conducted by Society for Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) in collaboration with Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) to examine the sale and advertising trends of innovative tobacco products in 9 cities of Pakistan.
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The survey revealed that all points of sale were selling innovative tobacco products around points of interest for youth. These products, mainly nicotine pouches, are displayed at visible eye level for children and placed beside candies, sweets and toys to appeal children and youth. Vendors also utilize sales techniques such as discounted products, free samples, gifts and competition entries to attract the customers.
Chief Guest, Mr. Mahesh Kumar Malani, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on, Health Services Regulations & Coordination, Government of Pakistan, said that Pakistan’s children are its assets. The basic dangers of tobacco are known to everyone but this research is a great effort because as it explores the harms of advertising as well. In future this will help us in minimizing the harms of tobacco. The government is committed towards protection and wellbeing of Pakistani children and work with all stakeholders to ensure that anti-child decisions will not be implemented in the country.
Guest of Honour Dr. Shazia Sobia Soomro, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation & Coordination mentioned that, this research is an eye opener for everyone that Pakistan’s children are bombarded with marketing and easy accessibility of addictive nicotine products around their educational and recreational facilities. This research will help us in coming up with ways to protect our children from tobacco’s harms.
Ms. Khalida Ahmed, Member Board of Directors SPARC, appreciated SPARC for conducting Tiny Targets. She said that rising tobacco is a huge issue is Pakistan. She mentioned that due to cheap and easy affordability nearly 1200 children begin smoking every day in Pakistan. We can’t afford any more children getting addicted to these new products. With continuous reviewing and updating Pakistan’s tobacco control legislation as it relates to tobacco industry advertising, promotion and sponsorship, the advertisements can be banned. She mentioned that municipal authorities should license tobacco vendors and exclusive tobacco shops where only tobacco products are sold. This will reduce exposure to tobacco products by children and non-users who will not frequently visit such stores.
Ms. Sana Jamali, Member, Senate of Pakistan said that this research will help the Government in recognizing the dangers of innovative tobacco products before it is too late. The government must ban addictive nicotine products and also strengthen Pakistan’s tobacco control legislation, to include ban on all forms of advertising of addictive nicotine products. The tobacco industry has already misled the government by claiming that e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches are less harmful and only for smokers who want to quit. However, these products are openly promoted online and sold to young and new consumers.
Khalil Ahmed Dogar, Program Manager, SPARC, stated that Tiny Targets survey was conducted in were Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Multan, Bahawalpur and Hyderabad. The surveyors collected data from vendors operating within 100-meter radius of schools, universities, hostels, playground and parks, cinemas, shopping malls, indoor gaming / entertaining center and restaurants.
The event was attended by parliamentarians, civil society members, health activists, journalists and youth, who appreciated SPARC’s efforts and expressed their commitment to support the cause of making Pakistan tobacco free.