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Dozens of health professionals join petition to PM

As many as 150 public health professionals have joined 150 of their health colleagues who had approached Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with a plea to enforce a two-year-old decision to increase the size of a graphic warning on cigarette packs.

The move comes after some 150 health professionals had sent a signed petition to the premier, who holds the charge of the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHSRC) reminding him to fulfil his pledge of increasing the size of the pictorial warning to cover 85 per cent of cigarette packs.

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These public health professionals include doctors, oncologists, paediatricians, cardio physicians, pulmonologists, neurologists and dentists. The petition had been signed by officials from various health and research facilities across Pakistan.

The decision to increase the size of the warning on cigarette packs had been announced by the State Minister for NHSRC Saira Afzal Tarar on February 11, 2015, but has yet to be enforced. Hence the warning remains at 40 per cent.

Nadeem Iqbal, the chief executive of health rights organisation The Network for Consumer Protection which is spearheading the campaign, said that Tarar’s decision had been hailed by the national and international health community since it had the potential of discouraging a large number of smokers from continuing and stop a substantial number of children from taking up smoking.

Quoting government statistics, Iqbal said that 73 per cent of smokers between the ages of 15 and 24 notice the health warnings and 33 per cent of them consider quitting because of the warning.

Iqbal argued that the number of these people would increase if the size of the warning is increased to 85 per cent.

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“International studies corroborate that tobacco package provides an opportunity to educate smokers on the hazards of tobacco. A smoker who smokes at least a pack daily is exposed to images printed on packs at least 20 times a day (7,000 times a year),” said Iqbal, adding, “It means that enhanced GHW provides 20 opportunities a day to the health ministry to deliver anti-smoking messages at critical junctures – at the point of purchase and the time of smoking. The use of pictorial images enhances the impact of the public health message.”

Dr Tabish Hazir, a renowned paediatrician, said that raising GHW was the most cost-effective intervention by the health ministry to neutralise the impact of tobacco products and reduce the influence of the tobacco industry.

“If you smoke while you are pregnant; your baby could be born too early, have birth defects, or die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Even being around cigarette smoke (SHM) can cause several health problems for children,” argued Dr Hazir.

Reporter. Dozens of health professionals join petition to PM. The Express Tribune, April 20, 2017.

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