The month of Ramzan brings forth various dilemmas that the Pakistani society has to face. One would think that the hotter months of June and July would be tough for ‘rozedaars’ due to the fear of dehydration from the lack of water intake. Or from the fact that heat is accompanied by load-shedding, a term that the developed world is not even familiar with. But no, we Pakistanis face troubles that are far from the obvious. For us, the most difficult thing about the roza is that we cannot enjoy our chai and cigarette, the match made in heaven, from Fajr till Maghrib. The pack of Marlboro leers at us from the counter-top, making those 15 hours seem longer each day. But which segment of our patient and resilient population does this forbidden fruit affect the most? Let us see what statistics can tell us about smokers in Pakistan.
According to the Pakistan Pediatrics Association, around 1000 to 1200 children between the age of 6 to 16 take up smoking daily. Moreover, second-hand smoke affects those not actively participating in the process. This occurs in public places as well as their homes. Among young teenagers between the ages of 13 to 15, about 34% are passive smokers. Exposure of this kind, especially at home, is what causes the problem. It makes children think that it is okay, and a cultural norm to smoke. Additionally, a study by the Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences assesses various other reasons due to which children take up smoking. It is done under stress, peer pressure, influence of friends and family, as well as a sign of independence for girls or masculinity for boys. Furthermore, as a favorite social activity, youngsters readily indulge in sheesha as a pastime and remain oblivious to the dire consequences.
According to a seminar in 2015 by various prestigious societies, including the Aga Khan University, experts revealed that an estimated 40% of the smokers in Pakistan were male. On the other hand, only 9% were female, but the numbers are escalating on both sides daily. Women who smoke openly in Pakistan are still frowned upon since the act is generally considered indecent and unhealthy for their children. However, majority of the Pakistani society fails to acknowledge the fact that most children end up smoking when they see one or both parents smoke. Furthermore, the idea that passive smoking is equally harmful is casually dismissed. Hence, it somehow makes it fair for the men to continue smoking. Therefore, there is a strong need to detach the image of masculinity from smoking. Self-inflicting harm can neither be synonymous with masculinity nor femininity.
According to a study by the Journal of Pakistan Medical Association, rural areas top urban areas in terms of smoking by about 2%. Cigarette and hookah are smoked more by about 8%, whereby male smokers outnumber female smokers by 11%. The lack of effort being made to raise awareness in rural settings remains a worrisome factor here. Financial constraints bound people living in these areas mentally, as well as emotionally. For these reasons, they take up smoking as a pastime and a stress relieving activity. Moreover, cigarettes are more easily accessible to them than clean water, due to low prices and availability. Therefore, there is a major need to raise awareness regarding the effects of smoking on the body. Furthermore, there is a need to eliminate the convenience factor when it comes to buying tobacco products.
Separated or divorced couples are generally more prone to take up smoking. This was one of the most surprising findings by the aforementioned study. Research shows that psychological experiences tend to be the cause of smoking in adulthood. These usually cause depression, anxiety, or a general negligence for one’s health. In most cases when together, those who did not approve of their partners smoking habit showed signs of disgust and discomfort, but most often disappointment. This disappointment sprang from the feeling that smokers were being careless about their own lives. Hence, they were also being careless about their family. Therefore, this carelessness is more prevalent in single people who have had breakups or troubled emotional relationships, especially women.
All in all, according to research, the general pattern indicates that there are more male smokers in Pakistan. They start from an early age due to family lifestyle or image issues. Women tend to be more inclined towards smoking due to marital problems or depression. It is vital that under no circumstances should smoking be considered a solution to a problem. Thorough laws need to be administered against smoking in public, as well as smuggling or selling at cheap prices.