Aftab Mohmand

The prevalence of smoking in Pakistan is on the rise each year, despite a global decline. Startlingly, approximately twelve hundred Pakistani children aged six to fifteen initiate smoking daily, as indicated by a global survey.

Pakistan currently has over 24 million smokers, encompassing individuals from diverse backgrounds, with a significant portion being young people indulging in tobacco, primarily in the form of cigarettes. Smoking is increasingly being perceived as a trend among youngsters, often adopted as a fashion statement.

According to World Health Organization data, eight million people worldwide succumb to smoking-related causes annually, a demographic that includes a considerable number of young individuals. This demographic comprises both educated and uneducated boys and girls, visibly smoking in educational institutions, workplaces, and factories. In Pakistan, the number of tobacco users exceeds 23.9 million, with around 1.6 million using cigarettes. Despite efforts by the Government of Pakistan’s Tobacco Control Cell, attractive features like colorful packaging, comfortable in-store seating, and the availability of e-cigarettes, often without warnings, allure an increasing number of people, particularly the youth.

What is an e-cigarette?

An e-cigarette is a battery-powered device that heats a solution known as e-liquid or juice, containing nicotine and common food flavors. Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes allow the inhalation of nicotine in vapor form instead of smoke—a practice commonly referred to as vaping.

Notably, the nicotine in e-cigarettes is comparatively less harmful than the toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke. The transition from traditional smoking to vaping is becoming evident, with e-cigarettes gaining popularity as a modern alternative.

Easy availability of e-cigarettes

The growing trend of vaping is predominantly observed in urban areas; however, the demand surge has led to the availability of e-cigarettes in grocery stores and cigarette shops. Qamar Naseem, the program manager of Blue Vans, an organization in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, notes that vaping, e-cigarettes, and tobacco pouches are increasingly prevalent. Vaping shops are commonly found in affluent business and residential areas, while tobacco pouches, containing nicotine and harmful substances, are easily accessible in general stores, especially around affluent neighborhoods, schools, and universities.

What are the possible reasons for starting e-cigarettes at a young age?

Numerous social factors contribute to the early initiation of e-cigarette use among Pakistani children. Psychologists point to peer pressure, stressful family and social situations, and social deprivation as key reasons. What might start as an escape or for recreational purposes can develop into a lifelong habit that proves exceedingly challenging to break. The ease of access to cigarettes and other tobacco products, coupled with virtually no barriers for underage buyers, further exacerbates the issue.

Are Younger Generations Using Vaping as a Fashion Statement?

Many young individuals perceive vaping as “cool” and find the act of producing vapors attractive, believing it to be a stylish endeavor. Vaping eliminates the lingering smell associated with traditional smoking, allowing users to avoid embarrassment in social and familial settings. Peer pressure is identified as a significant factor, with students entering college feeling compelled to adopt vaping for social acceptance and style.

A considerable number of youngsters are drawn to experimenting with new experiences during this phase of life, leading to attraction to addictive substances. The allure of vaping lies in its convenience—no smoke, aromatic flavors, and ease of use make e-cigarettes appealing to this demographic.

Are e-cigarettes safer than smoking?

A common misconception among those transitioning from cigarettes to vaping is the belief that e-cigarettes are less harmful. BMC Public Health researchers emphasize the need for tighter control over e-cigarettes, highlighting that while they mimic real cigarettes and produce less harmful vapors, they still contain addictive nicotine. Instead of viewing e-cigarettes as an alternative to tobacco, people often experiment with them as another addictive substance, posing potential health risks. Dr. Jafar Khan, a pulmonologist at Shifa Hospital in Islamabad, underscores the addictive nature of nicotine in e-cigarettes and its potential harm to health. Global research on the long-term effects of vaping remains inconclusive, leading many countries’ public health agencies to refrain from recommending it as a smoking cessation alternative.

Are there laws regarding e-cigarette content in Pakistan?

Pakistan has existing laws regulating tobacco use, such as the Anti-Smoking Ordinance, which prohibits smoking in public places, selling tobacco near educational institutions, and selling cigarettes to individuals under 18. However, there are no specific regulations governing vaping and e-cigarettes in Pakistan. In contrast, the United Kingdom enforces stringent regulations, including safety limits on nicotine content, restrictions on advertising, and controlled sales practices. India has taken a more stringent approach, imposing a complete ban on e-cigarettes and vaping.

The absence of specific regulations in Pakistan means there is no oversight on the quality of imported vaping devices. The Pakistan Standard Quality Control Authority does not include any type of e-cigarette on its ‘mandatory list,’ indicating a lack of authorization to monitor their quality. Salman Sufi, former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s adviser on reforms, states that the government officially discourages e-cigarettes and vaping. Provincial health departments are collecting data on the effects of vaping, and decisions on complete bans or stricter regulations will be made based on this information.