Mirza Abeer – Association for Smoking Alternatives in Pakistan (ASAP)
Smoking triggered his asthmatic conditions, but Mirza Abeer continued puffing cigarettes for 13 years. With his health on the line, he finally decided to quit, which became a real struggle especially as his social circle was of mostly smokers.
“I started at the age of 15. I smoked until I turned 28, so for 13 years I was a smoker. I’m also an asthmatic, so when I noticed my asthma getting worse and impacting my daily routine, I decided to cut down on the amount I smoked. When that didn’t help, I came to the conclusion that I had no option except quitting,” Abeer narrates.
Abeer says that aside from the obvious nicotine withdrawal, the biggest struggle in quitting was the social impact. “I used to smoke a lot in social settings so having to get through those while everyone else smoked was a thought that worried me a lot,” he says.
Three days after his last cigarette, Abeer found himself at a vape shop in 2014 when electronic cigarettes were virtually unheard in Pakistan. “The only reason I went was because I hoped that electronic cigarettes could serve as a better alternative to smoking so that while using it I wouldn’t feel left out or had to leave whenever someone I knew started smoking,” he says.
Quitting smoking is a tough challenge to surmount, but e-cigarettes helped Abeer in his smoke-free journey. He recalls going through a period when his asthma got worse after he quit. “But I didn’t relapse and once the coughs and wheezing subsided a week later, I noticed I could breathe more deeply and easily than before,” he says.
“My sense of taste and smell also got better. The best thing, however, was the decrease in severity and frequency of asthma attacks which today, after almost seven years of quitting, has reached a point where with medication, I do not have any more attacks,” says Abeer.
Finally free from smoking, Abeer feels a sense of purpose—to help other smokers overcome the challenge of quitting through smoke-free products such as e-cigarettes. He now heads the recently formed Association for Smoking Alternatives in Pakistan (ASAP) that advocates for tobacco harm reduction (THR) in a country where there are more than 15 million smokers and a virtually non-existent concept of tobacco harm reduction.
Abeer says while the actual number of smokers in Pakistan could be much higher than the official government estimates of 15.6 million, with the majority being men. “These are old numbers and the government has not conducted a new survey yet to determine how high the number has gone up since then,” he says.
“As we just started operations, we are focusing on creating awareness through our social media platforms and getting in touch with existing THR entities in the country and the region,” he says.