NHSR&C, PRCS, WHO sign LoI to raise awareness on tobacco hazards

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Under the initiative, thousands of PRCS volunteers will be trained to raise community-level awareness about hazards of using tobacco products

DNA

ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of National Health Services and the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday signed a Letter of Intent (LoI) with the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS), whereby thousands of volunteers registered with the country’s premier humanitarian organization across Pakistan will be trained to participate in campaigns designed to promote awareness about the hazards of using tobacco and other substances inimical to health.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan, PRCS Chairman Abrar-ul-Haq, and Director Smoke-Free Cities Project Dr Minhaj us Siraj attended the ceremony, among others. This signing of LoI was one of the key activities arranged in connection with the World No-Tobacco Day (WNTD), which is observed worldwide on May 31 each year. ‘Commit to Quit’ is the theme for World No-Tobacco Day in 2021 – the year when the WHO’s Tobacco Control Secretariat for the Eastern Mediterranean Region, Cairo, has recognized the efforts of the Tobacco Control Cell through an annual award conferred on the government of Pakistan.

Addressing the ceremony, SAPM Dr Faisal Sultan stated that the tobacco epidemic kills nearly 8 million people globally ever year. “More than 7 million of these deaths are from direct tobacco use and around 1.2 million are due to non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.” Furthermore, 1,200 children between the ages of 6 to 15 start smoking daily in Pakistan, which is quite alarming, he further said. “We will continue to strive to raise awareness and promote a smoke-free society by providing a counter-marketing campaign, awareness against nicotine use and empower young people to engage in the fight against tobacco,” he said, and called upon every citizen of Pakistan to contribute to the noble cause of safeguarding the health and wellbeing of present and future generations

In his address, PRCS Chairman Ibrar-ul-Haq said PRCS volunteers have always been on the frontline in raising awareness among communities regarding any health or social issues. He said under this initiative, the PRCS volunteers will go to public places and sensitize the people, especially youth, regarding hazards of tobacco use in order to achieve the ultimate goal of smoke-free Pakistan. He said the ‘Smoke-Free Islamabad’ model is being appreciated all over the world. “Through such initiatives, we can not only make our society tobacco-free but also rid our future generations of this menace,” he further said. “Let’s join hands to raise a smoke-free generation and build a smoke-free Pakistan,” he stressed.

Dr Palitha Mahipala, Head of Country Office WHO, appreciated the initiatives of the government for tobacco control in Pakistan. “The WHO believes that if the present trend continues and enforcement of tobacco control laws through the Smoke-Free Cities initiative and implementation of point-of-sale advertisement ban on tobacco products is carried out across the country, Pakistan will lead the EMRO Region in achieving the target of smoking prevalence reduction by 30% by 2025,” he hoped.

“Dr Minhaj us Siraj and his team of devoted professionals have been striving for a decade now to raise awareness about the hazards of tobacco use,” he said. “Dedicated Tobacco Control Cells in the district government offices are coordinating these efforts. Every significant department of the government and social sector is a stakeholder,” he further said. “Previously tobacco control has been strengthened by linking up with the Anti-Narcotics Force. Engaging PRCS for the initiative is another milestone,” he further said. “All these efforts are geared at prevention of cancers, cardiovascular and other non-communicable diseases associated with tobacco use,” he added.

Under the LoI, the PRCS has declared all its offices and blood banks across Pakistan the smoke-free facilities. It is worth mentioning here that the need to engage PRCS volunteers in raising of awareness and other anti-tobacco implementation activities stems from the escalating rate of smoking among youth. The PRCS volunteers will visit public places and educational institutions to educate young people about the hazards of tobacco use and to garner support for the creation of a smoke-free society.