PR No. 205 Islamabad: November 22, 2016

A powerful national mass media campaign to show the deadly harm of tobacco – and encourage smokers to quit – was launched today by Dr. Assad Hafeez, Director General, the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (MoH). Vital Strategies congratulated the Government on the launch of this campaign, which features a public service announcement (PSA) called Sponge”that graphically depicts how cigarettes smoke causes preventable disease and premature death.

Vital Strategies provided technical and financial support for the campaign, which will air on all major TV channels and appear on billboards and community posters in Pakistan until late December.

The 30 second “Sponge” PSA compares a smoker’s lungs with a sponge. It graphically shows how a smoker’s lungs soak up the poisons found in tobacco smoke, which collect in the lungs as cancer-causing tar. The amount of tar generated by a pack a day smoker, every year, is enough to fill a beaker. The PSA lists the diseases associated with tobacco use and urges smokers to “Quit Today!”.

The Director (TCC) of the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, said: “WHO’s MPOWER framework emphasis the range of policy measures and initiatives for successful tobacco control programs. One of the key components of MPOWER comes from the letter “W” to “Warn about the dangers of tobacco”, and this is why we are here today – to continue to warn the public about tobacco harms. TCC fully endorses the need for ongoing national communication campaigns to tell people the truth about tobacco”. 

The Director General of the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, said: ”We need to reduce tobacco use in Pakistan, to reduce the health and economic burden it causes. Tobacco-related illness reduces productivity, causes massive health care costs and robs families of breadwinners, leaving some of our children without a secure future. Our message is very clear. Tobacco kills – and in many cases it does not kill quickly, but causes lingering and debilitating conditions such as heart disease, strokes, cancer and chronic lung conditions including Tuberculosis. Smokers and other tobacco users should seriously consider their tobacco use. For the good of their physical and financial health, for Pakistan’s people and her economy, we encourage tobacco users to Quit Today! 

            “This is the second national tobacco control campaign implemented in Pakistan, which has been supported by Vital Strategies. We would like to take this opportunity to thank them for sharing their global expertise and assisting us in this important work of reducing tobacco use and saving lives.”

The Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) Pakistan (2014) found that 31.8 percent of adult men and 5.8 percent of women use tobacco in any form; 22.2 percent of men and 2.1 percent of women currently smoke tobacco. While nearly 88 percent of smokers believe that smoking causes serious illness, only a quarter (24.7 percent) had tried to quit in the past year and only 22.3 percent planned to or were thinking about quitting. According toThe Tobacco Atlas, tobacco use is the cause of 12.2 percent of deaths among men and 4.5 percent of deaths among women, killing over 2,000 Pakistanis every week.

GATS confirmed that smokers in Pakistan are aware that smoking causes harm, but too few are currently translating this knowledge into an intention to quit. High tobacco taxes, smoking bans and hard-hitting tobacco control communication campaigns help to prompt quit attempts. An evaluation of Pakistan’s first national tobacco control communication campaign, broadcast in 2015, found that more than half (53 percent) of smokers who recalled seeing the campaign reported making a quit attempt during the initial campaign period. An additional 15 percent who were aware of the campaign also made a quit attempt after the initial period.

Speaking at today’s launch event, Dr Tahir Turk, Senior Technical Advisor, Policy, Advocacy and Communication, Vital Strategies, added: “We congratulate Pakistan on broadcasting “Sponge” as part of its tobacco control strategy. By showing the specific harms of tobacco use in a simple but powerful way, campaigns like “Sponge” help to encourage smoking cessation and deter youth from starting to use tobacco. These campaigns also assist in countering misinformation from the multinational tobacco companies, whose only interest is to make profits from products that kill one in every two smokers before their time. More needs to be done to reject tobacco industry interference in government policy designed to protect the health of Pakistan’s people. 


            “Given the crucial role these campaigns play in saving lives and reducing the health care costs of tobacco-related disease, we call on Pakistan’s TV and radio stations to comply with their obligation – reiterated in the Supreme Court and by the Chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) in June – to allocate 10 percent of air-time to broadcasting public service messages, including “Sponge”. We wholeheartedly support such a sustainable strategy for funding health communication campaigns. With concerted government action, Pakistan can and will combat the growing tobacco epidemic and make progress towards its objectives under the Global Goals.” 


“Sponge,” which has been adapted for broadcast in Pakistan, is one of the world’s most successful tobacco control campaigns, having already aired in more than 25 countries. The PSA and stills and transcripts from the PSA are available upon request.