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Younger people getting cancer from smoking

Staff Report

KARACHI: As younger and younger people are taking up smoking, they are putting themselves at risk of getting cancer at 30, said Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Centre department of Oncology Dr Ahmed Usman.

But it isn’t just cigarettes that could give them cancer, he cautioned. Gutka and paan is used very widely and leads to mouth cancer too.

Shafquat Rozi of the Department of Community Health Services at AKU studied cigarette smoking among male college students in Karachi. The data was obtained from registered colleges. A random sample of 576 male college students of ages ranging from 15–30 years was interviewed during the academic year 2004–2005. Rozi found that 26.7% of students had ever tried smoking and 24% of college students reported current smoking.

After adjusting for age, students in public schools were more likely to smoke as compared to students in private schools. Students whose friends are smokers were 5 times more likely to smoke compared to those whose friends are non-smokers. Students with fathers with no formal schooling were more likely to smoke as compared to those whose fathers had some degree of education. Students with non-working mothers were more likely to smoke. Students belonging to Bin Qasim and Gadap towns were more likely to smoke as compared to students residing in other towns.

Abbasi Shaheed Hospital ENT Surgeon Dr Qaisar Sajjad said that there are reports that in certain areas students in the 12 to 18 years group have been given free cigarettes in a bid to get them hooked. And instead of enforcing the ban on smoking in public places, people smoke everywhere, in parks, offices, closed rooms and on public transport.

According to the Aga Khan University of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that there are about 22 million smokers in Pakistan and at least one person in a family is a smoker. Tobacco use kills an average of one person every six seconds and is responsible for one in 10 adult deaths worldwide, killing 5.4 million people a year. Unchecked, tobacco-related deaths will increase to more than eight million a year by 2030, and 80 percent of those deaths will occur in developing countries like Pakistan.

Speaking at a World No Tobacco Day programme organized by the AKU, health professionals expressed particular concern with young people smoking.

Quoting research conducted by AKU last year, Pulmonary Medicine Head Prof. Dr Javaid Khan said that 24 percent of male and 16 percent of female college students are regular smokers in Karachi. In Islamabad, the prevalence is even higher, with 28 percent of young people smoking.

Smoking causes 90 percent of chronic obstructive lung disease cases, which is very difficult to treat but it is on the rise and most people eventually end up with respiratory failure, warned consultant chest physician Dr Suleman Haque. “Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths in Pakistani men and over 90 percent of such cases are the direct result of tobacco use,” he added.

Because of aggressive marketing by tobacco companies, an estimated 1,500 young people are taking up smoking daily in Pakistan, said consultant chest physician Dr Muhammad Irfan. It is a misconception that light smokers are not at risk from tobacco-related health problems. Compared with those who had never smoked, those who smoke between 1 to 4 cigarettes a day were almost three times more likely to die of a heart attack and lung cancer, he warned.

Tobacco use in the form of gutka and pan masala is also on the rise in Pakistan, especially among children, resulting in a higher incidence of head and neck cancers, said Head and Neck Surgeon Dr Shehzad Ghaffar. “Unfortunately, Pakistan is one of the countries with a higher incidence of oral cancer,” he regretted.
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