Wednesday, September 9, 2015

South-East Asia countries pledge tough action against tobacco

Mumbai, September 7, 2015: Tobacco kills 150 people every hour in the WHO South-East Asia Region. Concerned at the unacceptably high tobacco consumption, Health Minister from 11 countries today signed a declaration pledging to accelerate hard-hitting measures to reduce tobacco use.

“Tobacco use in South-East Asia is alarmingly high, triggering major health and economic consequences. Tougher actions are needed for tobacco control and prevention. Countries must equally tax all tobacco products, ban tobacco advertisements, enforce pictorial warning on cigarette packs and implement ban on public smoking” said, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia Region, at the adoption of the declaration, spearheaded by WHO.

The Dili Declaration, signed in the capital of Timor-Leste where the 68th Regional Committee Meeting of the WHO South-East Asia Region began this morning, calls on the governments, United Nations agencies, and partners to accelerate tobacco control in the WHO South-East Asia Region. The Region accounts for over one-third of the world’s tobacco use.

Tobacco kills 1.3 million people in the Region every year. This includes people who have never used tobacco themselves, but were exposed to second hand and third hand tobacco effects. The Region is home to 25% of the world’s smokers and 90% of the world’s smokeless tobacco users, about 246 million and 290 million people respectively. The prevalence of different types of smokeless tobacco is on the rise - which is chewed, or sucked, snuffed orally or nasally, sipped or gargled, or applied to teeth and gums. Tobacco use has been identified as one of the major risk factors for serious diseases such as lung disease, heart disease, and cancer.

In 2012 an estimated 62% deaths in the Region were attributed to non-communicable diseases; of these 48% were below 70 years. We know that tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable deaths. These premature deaths are not only a loss to the families, but also have a huge economic impact on the country,Dr Khetrapal Singh said in her inaugural address at the regional meeting.

“We need to enforce stringent policies and measures to help people reduce and eventually quit tobacco; to prevent the youth and children from taking to tobacco use; and to protect people from second hand tobacco smoke,” she said, calling for stricter implementation of tobacco control and prevention guidelines as outlined in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Besides adopting and enforcing tobacco control laws, rules and regulation, WHO recommends enhancing awareness on the ill effects of all types of tobacco products;  effective control measures to reduce tobacco consumption and counter interference of tobacco industry; strengthening taxation systems on tobacco products to reduce consumption and enhancing surveillance, research and cessation of tobacco use.

Implementing the recommendations of WHO FCTC, countries have increased the pictorial warning on tobacco products. In Nepal the pictorial warning covers 90% and in Thailand 85% of the cigarette packs. Maldives and Nepal have banned all tobacco advertising. Though nine countries in the Region have levied excise tax on tobacco products, there is need to simplify tax structures and harmonize taxation of all tobacco products to close tax loopholes that the tobacco companies exploit to continue making their products accessible to the younger and poor people.

Tobacco control figured prominently at the Regional Committee Meeting, inaugurated by the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, Rui Maria de Araújo. Accelerating the implementation of WHO FCTC is vital to achieving the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to reduce tobacco use 30% by 2025.

The Regional Committee meeting from 7 – 11 September will discuss the health agenda for the Region. It will deliberate on key issues such as preparing to respond to health emergencies, the growing anti-microbial resistance which threatens to undo the advances made with the use of anti-biotics, prevention and control of cancer, expanding universal health coverage and elimination of neglected tropical diseases.

The Meeting is being attended by Health Ministers and high level health ministry delegations from all the 11 Member countries.

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WHO’s South-East Asia Region comprises the following 11 Member States: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

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