TheNetwork for Consumer Protection on Thursday launched a report “Smoky Truth” detailing how “Tobacco Industry in Pakistan carves room for Maneuver.”
The report in a book form was formally launched amidst the galaxy of health professionals including oncologists, policy makers, health rights activists, politicians and prominent members of academia and lawyers.
The report has been launched in the backdrop of a simmering controversy wherein the industry is using ‘non-health’ national and international actors against the health ministry to scuttle its plans to introduce strict regulations on tobacco industry to safeguard the health of the people of Pakistan as per fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan.
It was a rare occasion to see two recently diagnosed cancer patients, Muhammad Ziakat, 31 and Feroz Din, 55, launching the report.
Ziakat, a construction worker in Dubai returned to Murree, his homeland, last year on vacation. There he was diagnosed with cancer. So far, he has spent around Rs400,000 on cancer treatment. Feroz Din, a blacksmith from a small village of District Haripur, claims that he has been a smoker for the last 45 years and only quit it when diagnosed with CA buccal mucosa cancer. The deadly disease caused by smoking is already taking its toll as he has started disposing of his assets. Addressing the participants briefly, they said smoking had ruined their lives depriving them of all the joys of life.
Nadeem Iqbal, Executive Co-ordinator of TheNetwork, while briefing the audience about the report and various phases in its preparation, said, “Collecting information and compiling the report has been a huge challenge as the industry has ‘a number of skeletons in its closet’. This report is just a tip of the iceberg. There is much more deceit and gullibility the industry is employing to carry on with its nefarious business.”
Nadeem said that the report should be seen in the context of national and international tobacco control scene where industry is going into litigation against tobacco control regulations. The report such as Smoky Truth will help develop the legal arguments against the industry. The report also gives the message to the health community that they have successfully sensitised the patients to the harmful effects of smoking but now they have to tell everyone that its tobacco industry that is killing them.
He appealed to the doctors and lawyers that every cancer patient should be encouraged to sue the industry and claim damages from the industry. The lawyers should be providing free legal aid to such patients.
Dr Faisal Sultan, Chief Executive Officer, Shaukat Khanam Memorial Cancer Hospital, who had travelled all the way from Lahore to attend the report launching ceremony, said tobacco smoking was major cause of lung cancer. In his presentation titled ‘Smoking and Cancer’ Dr Faisal said a smoker is 17-time more under the risk of contracting lung cancer than a non-smoker. Besides cancer, smoking also causes heart diseases. He told the participants of the report launching ceremony that in the US it has been established that the quicker a smoker quits smoking the likelier are the chances of his survival than those of a smoking person.
Dr Javed Akram, CEO of PIMS and VC, Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Medical University, urged the need to discourage smoking at every forum. Terming the launch of the report a milestone, Dr Akram called upon the government to come forward and make strong regulatory framework to control its spread. He also asked the Ulema and religious scholars to issue fatwa against smoking as like any other drugs it is highly addicting. Cigarette is a symbol of ignorance and he/she who smokes should be discredited by us all, said Dr Javed Akram. He offered to conduct a study in response to the FBR’s statistics as what the country earns in form of tobacco taxes and what it loses in the shape of expenses spent on the treatment of cancer. Definitely health cost of cancer patients is much higher than the revenues collected from the tobacco industry, he said.
Human Rights activist Nasreen Azhar also condemned smoking saying she herself was a victim of passive smoking. “TheNetwork’s report serves as eye-opener for all of us and we need to give a collective message to the government to hold tobacco industry accountable for enticing the people, especially the youth,” she added.
Dr Shahzad Ali Khan from Health Services Academy (HAS) urged the need to ‘de-glamourise’ cigarettes and smoking. He said tobacco mafia was more powerful and more resourceful than tobacco control advocates.
Dr Aziz-ur-Rehman, Professor of Law at International Islamic University, (IIU) said Tobacco Industry was using litigation as a tool. He gave examples of Australia where tobacco control advocates had to wage a lengthy furious legal war against tobacco industry in order to adopt plain cigarette packs.
Dr Muhammad Faheem, Head of Oncology Department, Nuclear Medicine Oncology & Radiology Institute (NORI) in his presentation ‘Smoking a silent legal Assassin’ called cigarettes weapons of mass destruction. Every year, more lives are lost to tobacco and the challenge is becoming deadlier than the previous one, he said. If the trend is not checked, by 2020, tobacco will become the biggest cause of deaths around the world, he warned.
Mazhar Arif from Society for Alternative Media And Research (SAMAR) said smoking was not only a health challenge it was a very much political issue with its roots deep in the power corridors. Dr Vaqar Ahmed, Deputy Director, SDPI, termed TheNetwork report an authentic document telling us how Tobacco Industry is maneuvering to expand its business in the market.