Pakistan’s Science disconnect in Smoking Control

The prevalence of cigarette smoking remains a pressing issue in Pakistan, resulting in over 160,000 deaths annually. Despite Pakistan being a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the country continues to grapple with high smoking rates. While measures such as increased taxation on combustible cigarettes have been implemented, their effectiveness is undermined by the country’s inability to curb illicit trade, hindering progress towards reducing smoking rates.

It is also crucial to recognize that not all smokers desire to quit, making blanket bans ineffective. Certain individuals may choose to continue smoking despite awareness of the associated health risks. Therefore, addressing smoking prevalence requires a multifaceted approach that considers the diverse behaviors of smokers.

Contrary to Pakistan’s short-term strategies, there is a growing recognition of the need for evidence-based, long-term solutions rooted in harm reduction principles. Countries such as Sweden and Japan have proven the efficacy of harm reduction approaches in reducing smoking prevalence by encouraging smokers to transition to scientifically validated, less harmful alternatives such as e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products, snus, and oral nicotine pouches.

Sweden boasts the world’s lowest prevalence of adult daily smoking, standing at a mere 5.6 percent, largely attributed to the long-standing tradition of snus use.

With a growing population and an economy facing significant challenges, the impact of smoking-related illnesses on healthcare costs in Pakistan is particularly concerning. It is noteworthy that only 30% of countries have made progress towards achieving the WHO target of a 30% reduction in smoking by 2030, indicating the sluggish pace of change and the urgent need for an innovative approach.

Pakistan’s alignment with WHO policies, which equate THR products with traditional cigarettes, hamper progress towards achieving meaningful reductions in smoking rates. Despite scientific evidence showing the potential of substitutes to reduce harm, Pakistan’s regulatory framework does not distinguish between them.

Pakistan’s lack of commitment and investment in independent research on alternatives further worsens the situation. The country must take ownership of its smoking control agenda by investing in independent research and policy formulation tailored to its specific needs and challenges. By prioritizing evidence-based, long-term solutions rooted in harm reduction principles, the country can make significant strides towards reducing smoking prevalence and improving public health outcomes. It is time for Pakistan to shift its focus from short-term gains to the well-being of its citizens and embrace a more holistic approach to smoking control.


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