Pakistan stands among the top four countries alongside Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia with regards to the rise in tobacco usage. A staggering 40% of males and 9% females smoke, however, certain areas remain more affected by this, for example, in a recent study conducted by the Aga Khan University in collaboration with the National Alliance for Tobacco control showed that tobacco use in women has risen to an astounding 65% in Orangi town. The State Bank of Pakistan predicts that 250 billion rupees were spent on buying 64.48 billion cigarettes in the year 2014. Of course, this figure is based on the recorded official sales and does not take into account the billions of fake, unbranded and smuggled cigarettes. Statistics reveal that 90% of the cases of lung cancer and 70% of oral cancer in Pakistan are caused due to smoking. The list goes on perpetually when it comes to the harmful effects of smoking, where diseases such as chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, cardiovascular disease, cervical cancer and complications associated with pregnancy. In terms of affecting our daily routine,smokers are more prone to tire out and be short of breath. Men who smoke are more likely to suffer from impotence in their 30s and 40s, and women are not spared the ill-effects of smoking either as it cuts down the age at which they attain menopause and generally lose their fertility.
However, the person who smokes does it out of choice, and hence, to point the fingers at him for doing so maybe justified, but what about the people who lie within the proximity of the smoker? 15% of the smoke is inhaled and 85% of the smoke is exhaled, and a single puff leads to the release of 4700 chemicals, which consists of 50 carcinogens, into the atmosphere. Some of these chemicals include tar, arsenic, cadmium and nickel. Passive smoking according to the US Environment Protection Agency is a class A carcinogen. In line with this fact, second hand smoke is responsible for similar effects in passive smokers, and hence, has always been a major concern for the tobacco producing industries. For instance, researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina have found out that passive smokers are at a 30% greater risk of a stroke as compared to the people who are not exposed to smoke. Hence, regulation of smoking has failed on all levels, despite the fact that Section 5 of the tobacco control law of the prohibition of smoking in public and government offices. Considering the fact that the likes of Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, Pervez Khattak, was seen smoking in public space in front of Inspector General of Police- a person responsible for implementing the law- and the PTI chairman, Imran Khan- a person renowned for criticizing every being apart from himself- this law definitely has been a farce that can easily be taken for granted. This came at a time when the government was engaged in a tussle with the cigarette manufacturing companies on enlarging the health warning size to 85% of the packet. Similarly, the former governor of Balochistan, Nawab Zulfiqar Magsi,and Sindh Education Minister, Nisar Khoro, were spotted smoking in the public too, for which they issued apologies. Professor Javaid A. Khan, chairperson of the National Alliance for Tobacco Control, states that these laws have not been implemented. Let alone these facts, a place which potentially grants health to a patient is flooded with people who smoke. Certain hospitals, such as the hospitals in Turbat, are besieged with people that smoke cigarettes.
However, none of the points sides with the idea that we should smoke, and hence, there is something that is erroneous. Are we being tricked by the society to smoke? Or are we tricked by our minds to smoke? What is the factor that leads us to take up smoking? Why do people pay to get themselves killed? As the figures above reveal, the reason is not particularly easy to retrieve; else our position against smoking would have been a bit more auspicious as compared to what it is now.
Hence, despite the warnings on the packet, the laws in place and advancement in research to point out to the harmful effects of smoking, we must be failing somewhere to rectify this extremely grave problem. This issue needs to be studied more to come to conclusions regarding solving this issue. Therefore, let’s hypothesize a few reasons for why this might be happening. First of all, lack of education and awareness remains at the forefront. Considering the fact that the government spends an abysmal 2% of its budget on education, it does not come as a surprise that problems associated with it are blooming.
Since way too many scenarios are present to get introduced to smoking and this opinion is too short to consider all of them, we will stick to a few. For example, in a developing country like ours, due to high rates of inflation and to fulfill the expenses of houses, children are pushed out of the house to become the breadwinners of the family. This is not only applicable to minors but also to adults running households. After running around and putting a penny by a penny, these workers are still not able to fulfill their expenses. This of course leads to frustration, propelling the need for short term methods to relieve this pain and to feel relaxed even for a tiny bit, and considering the ease with which cigarettes are available at relatively low rates, where a consumer does not necessarily have to buy the entire pack but also has the luxury to buy a cigarette or two at one time. To add to that, the minors can easily walk up to one of the paan stands on the side of the road and can ask for a cigarette without being said no to, even though transacting cigarettes with minors is prohibited.
It is believed that 110 million people in this country who have no access to food two times a day contribute heavily to this industry. The Orangi town study mentioned above highlights depression and anxiety as one of the main common causes for smoking; this fact stands in line with the strong correlation between the two variables in the West. However, the people are equally vulnerable to it because of the peer pressure factor. There is something that creates a vortex and tugs at the person into a particular act, even if he is not particularly interested in it himself. Being social beings, this is to create an image amongst peers, as research reveals thatsmokers are taken more seriously and can be labeled as being more rebellious, and hence, a chain reaction is kindled where more and more people embrace smoking. This behavior is disturbingly common in teenagers who still are on the brink of developing their personality, and as more than 70% of the population in Pakistan lies below the age of 30, it is highly relevant to the situation in Pakistan. To add to that, the serene feeling associated is an icing on the cake, giving them extra reasons to smoke and making smoking a win-win situation on all accounts.
On boiling it down from a macroscopic to a microscopic level, research in psychology elucidates that people tend to dissociate themselves from their future selves. Consider a scenario in which you have a choice to complete an assignment due in two weeks today or within the next two weeks, you might opt for leaving the assignment up until the last night before the deadline, rushing it completely. Hence, the person in question did not think of the nightmarish times that were to befall upon him. This highly irrational behavior can be attributed to the way in which our minds are wired. There are two sections in the brain that are constantly in a conflict with each other; one is the slower prefrontal cortex that is associated with complex planning and thinking tasks, and the other faster region is the limbic system, which respond to the immediate and concrete rewards such as experiences that can be touched, smelled, heard or tasted, and this system has a profound influence on decision making. For example, in a situation where you are dieting, there is a free cake available and you tell yourself that this is the only time you will eat despite your diet regime, and in a similar manner, this influential ‘temptation’ region overpowers the ‘thinking’ region in your brain influencing a person to smoke despite the fact that the person is aware of the not-needed things.
The addictive component, nicotine, gets working and increases the dependency on it, giving rise to a life-long habit of smoking. However, the horrors associated with smoking start to first make cameo appearances and then launch a full-fledged attack on the person in question, and this comes off as a surprise as we do not expect it, and a series of medical tests reveal that this condition may require rigorous treatment or may even be fatal, and above all, after having depleted money stores on cigarette smoking, now the person is engaged in paying for their treatment due to the factor that brought them to the hospital in the first place. The health facilities are sub-standard, given that $9.3 are spent on each person in this country as opposed to the par $60 recommended by WHO. It is then that the unending regrets set in, and a bit within us craves to stop time just so that we can straighten the responsibilities we owe to this world. However, the teetering health makes it impossible to make people attain the aspired goals.
Hence, the government and people can help people’s cause. The government has a responsibility towards the people, and if it has proposed for a law, it needs to follow it rigorously, after all the law was put in place due to a specific reason and without implementation, the law is as good as not being present. Implementation of such a law is not an impossible task. Several nations, such as Ireland and Turkmenistan, have shown a promising stance against smoking and are now reaping the benefits of their proactive actions. Up until the government takes a more firm stance on smoking, it is up to us to understand the phenomenon by which our body and brain functions to vanquish such a strong ill in our life. Above all, a healthy life style is integral to our mental well-being, physical well-being, productivity and contribution to the society.