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News claiming 72% of women smoke in Pakistan is false

Pakistan Tobacco Board official unable to provide source of number used in reports

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Claim: Social media posts claim that the percentage of women who smoke in Pakistan has surged to 72%, citing the Pakistan Tobacco Board (PTB) as the source.

Fact: This claim is false. The Pakistan Tobacco Board said that the figure was from a 2005 survey and PTB has no involvement in it.

On 23 July 2023, Geo News and The News published reports on the number of women smokers in Pakistan.

Geo News carried the story under the headline, “72% of women in Pakistan are smokers: PTB”, whereas The News ran the headline, “Shocking surge: ‘72% of Pakistani women’ are smokers”.

Both news reports were taken down after backlash on social media on the authenticity of the claim; however, the archived links can be found here and here.

Fact or Fiction?

The stories mention that a survey conducted by the Pakistan Tobacco Board (PTB) — shared with the public accounts subcommittee in Islamabad — shows a surge in the number of women smokers. It cites data suggesting that there are more than 30 million smokers in Pakistan and over 80 billion cigarettes are smoked annually.

The reports also discussed the health implications of smoking, such as anxiety, depression, risk of stillbirth, and lung diseases, as well as an increase in those illnesses due to the use of tobacco products.

To investigate this, Soch Fact Check spoke with the PTB Secretary, Dr Qaizer Ahmed.

According to Dr Ahmed, the percentage used in the news reports — 72% of Pakistani women — comes from a 2005 survey study conducted by a non-governmental organisation (NGO). He said he remembered the figure when asked about how many people were using tobacco in the country; this includes sniffing, snorting, cigarettes, naswar (moist and clumped dipping tobacco), and other tobacco products.

When inquired further, Dr Ahmed clarified that the figure is far less in other studies conducted by researchers. He elaborated that the figure 72% meant that number of people who smoke 72% of them are women. It does not mean that 72% women of Pakistan are smokers. The PTB has no direct involvement in the survey mentioned, he said; he was also unable to provide any such survey to Soch Fact Check at the time of publication.

The research conducted on tobacco usage does not support this figure in Pakistan. According to the report of the World Health Survey carried out in Pakistan in 2002-2003, the prevalence of any form of smoked tobacco use among adults was a total of 19.9% (33.5% for males and 6.2% for females).

A National Survey conducted in 2012 on “Prevalence and sociodemographic determinants of tobacco use among adults in Pakistan” found that current cigarette smoking was 15.2% overall, 26.6% among males and 0.4% among females.

In 2014, Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) took place in Pakistan. According to GATS, among men, 31.8% were tobacco users, 22.2% were current tobacco smokers, 19.4% smoked cigarettes, and 19.3% smoked manufactured cigarettes. While the ratio was far less in women and the corresponding percentages constituted 5.8%, 2.1%, 1.0% and 1.0%.

The fact sheet on STEPS survey conducted in 2014-2015 reported that 25.5% of men and 3.8% of women aged 18-69 years were daily smokers in Punjab and Sindh.

According to the 2021 study conducted by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), the smoking prevalence varies across gender (male 32.4%, female 5.7%) region (rural 13.9%, urban 10%), and age groups (adults 19.1%, adolescents 6–14%).

The World Bank also published a country brief on “Overview of Tobacco Use, Control Legislation, and Taxation” in Pakistan. The study combined all data and research surveys conducted and peer-reviewed in the last few years.

The results indicated that the prevalence of any tobacco use showed an average decline of 0.69% per year, and the prevalence of smoked tobacco use – 0.43% per year. The overall prevalence of tobacco use among women also showed a decline over the years (1994- 2017).

Graph indicating the prevalence of tobacco usage among women in Pakistan (1994 – 2017)

All of the above studies indicate that the ratio of female smokers has not increased up to 72% in Pakistan.

Moreover, Soch Fact Check reached out to British American Tobacco (BAT) to inquire if they had conducted any such relevant research. The company said it “would not be for BAT to answer”.

Soch Fact Check could not independently verify what percentage of Pakistan’s population uses tobacco products in any form including cigarettes.

Virality

Soch Fact Check conducted a search on Facebook with the keywords “72% of women smoke” and found that the false claim was shared by multiple digital media outlets including Kluchit, Parhlo and MangoBaaz. The archived versions can be seen here, here, here, here and here.

On Twitter, the false claim can be seen here, and here.

Conclusion: 72% of women in Pakistan do not smoke.

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