Aftab Hussain hails from Gilgit Baltistan (GB) and is a student of 3rd semester of Electronic Engineering in a local university at Islamabad. These days, he’s receiving treatment for chest infection from Pakistan institute of medical science (PIMS) due to excessive smoking. Hussain used to smoke five cigarettes daily and to buy those, he visited the local tobacco corner five times a day. Nowadays, though Hussain is visiting the shop just once but smoking 14 cigarettes per day since the government banned the purchase of loose cigarettes in the country.The ministry of National Health Services (NHS) in exercise of the powers conferred by the Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers Ordinance 2002,prohibited the sale of loose cigarettes. “No retail seller or any person shall sell, offer for sale or distribute any cigarettes unless they are in a packet of at least 20 cigarettes,” state the amended rules. While the civil society members and health experts sing praises of this decision taken by the government in March because, according to them, it would discourage the youth from smoking, evidence gathered by Daily Times through ground research and on-field interviews points to the contrary. Not just has this ban failed in disincentivising the youth from smoking but it has also increased the cigarette intake in youth.Hussain recalled the time he began smoking nostalgically, “I had just joined university when I started smoking. I enjoyed smoking a lot.” He said that the ban on the sale of loose cigarettes did not dissuade him from smoking. “When the government banned the sale of loose cigarettes, I and my friends began cutting down on other expenses like travelling on Careem daily in order to save money to purchase an entire packet of cigarettes,” he said. He said that his daily expenses remained the same but cigarette consumption increased. “Whenever I take a full pack of cigarettes to my hostel room and we are studying, watching a movie or just hanging out we smoke more since we have more cigarettes at hand,” he said. “Pre-ban we had to ration four or five loose cigarettes we had bought but now we smoke 14 cigarettes straight,” he added. “And that is why I am down with a chest infection this week,” said Aftab Hussain. Amjid Abbasi who runs a small tobacco shop in Islamabad told Daily Timesthat a majority of his clientele consisted of students who were residing in hostels. “I can name quite a few students who previously used to purchase just three to four cigarettes before the ban on loose cigarettes and now they have started purchasing an entire packet. He added that he was earning more money than before because the purchase volume of cigarettes had increased. Abbasi affirmed that the habit of smoking had indeed increased among students.Zarghun shifted from Karachi to Islamabad to study finance from a university. According to Zarghun, he used to smoke nine expensive cigarettes but after the ban, he shifted to a cheaper brand of cigarettes. “A single branded cigarette costs Rs 8 but you can get a packet of cheap cigarettes for Rs 60,” said Zarghun. Zargun pointed out that before the ban on loose cigarettes was enacted, he smoked nine cigarettes per day but now his consumption had shot up to 20 cigarettes. “Whenever I exercise, I can feel this stabbing pain in my chest. I also feel very sluggish,” said the student. Zarghun attributed these health conditions to the increase in his cigarette consumption. Dr Maham is a Rawalpindi-based psychologist who works in a drug rehabilitation center. She told Daily Times that most of the students from the city had visited her clinic and complained about excessive smoking. “Whenever I asked about the reason, 95% of cases cited the ban on loose cigarettes,” she shared. Dr Maham said that in developed countries the government usually ran an effective awareness campaign to apprise the nation regarding effects of smoking on the human body. “The next step is to introduce centers for those citizens who are determined to give up on smoking,” she explained.“Unfortunately in our case there is not a single mass-level campaign against smoking anywhere,” she regressed. “There hasn’t been an awareness campaign in the mainstream media or in educational institutes,” she said. She added that there were no rehabilitation centers either. “How about providing guidance and counselling to the youngsters who wish to quit smoking,” she suggested. She said that if the government was upset about the young generation’s health, it should ban manufacturing of cigarettes and shut down the factories which were producing cigarettes. “As a psychologist I didn’t understand the logic presented by the ministry when they banned cigarettes. If they are so concerned with the public’s health they should begin a module according to the scientific modern health techniques,” she proposed. “Only then can we do away with addiction,” concluded Dr Maham.Published in Daily Times, October 13th 2018.