Smoking may kill 500,000 in Asean

(Stock image for illustration purposes) Among Asean countries, the male adult smoking prevalence is highest in Indonesia (66 per cent) and lowest in Singapore (21.1 per cent).
By Wendell C. Balderas - September 16, 2018 @ 11:31am

The tobacco industry undermines public health and sustainable development. Asean member nations must invest in and strengthen implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to reduce the devastating health, social, economic and environmental harms of tobacco, save more lives, and thereby, achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (Seatca) executive director Dr Ulysses Dorotheo said: “This 12th Asia-Pacific Conference on Tobacco or Health is an opportunity to remind governments of their obligations to protect people and planet by implementing FCTC.”

The theme of this week’s Bali conference, with more than 900 participants, is “Tobacco Control for Sustainable Development: Ensuring a Healthy Generation”.

Among Asean countries, the male adult smoking prevalence is highest in Indonesia (66 per cent) and lowest in Singapore (21.1 per cent).

This year, the region is projected to consume 548 billion cigarettes, primarily in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam as transnational tobacco companies shift from developed countries, targeting markets in poorer, less-developed countries where tobacco control policy is not as stringent.

Dorotheo said: “Tobacco negatively affects many of the 17 SDGs, so tobacco control is essential for sustainable development. The inclusion of FCTC implementation as a key target for the health goal recognises the magnitude of the smoking epidemic. SDGs cannot be achieved without a strong commitment to tobacco control.”

Seatca’s first Asian Tobacco Industry (TI) Interference Index indicates that most countries are moving at a glacial pace in protecting public policy from tobacco industry influence and interference, as recommended by the World Health Organisation’s FCTC Article 5.3 guidelines.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities are one of the key strategies the tobacco industry uses to undermine bans on tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorship.

Since governments have committed to implementing SDGs through long-term plans based on partnerships, the tobacco industry has re-aligned its CSR programmes along the lines of SDGs. Tobacco industry programmes and documents are peppered with SDGs and the word “sustainability” to win political approval.

“We call on governments to reject the tobacco industry and set up safeguards to prevent interactions with the industry, limit interactions necessary for tobacco regulation and implement transparency measures to protect public health policies from tobacco industry interference,” said Dorotheo.

FCTC provides a roadmap to tackle the tobacco epidemic and reduce the tobacco burden to help countries speed up achievement of SDGs.

Effective and inexpensive public health measures include substantial tobacco tax increases, adopting a code of conduct in dealing with the industry, comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising and promotions, such as pack displays, 100 per cent smoke-free policies and plain packaging of tobacco.

This is a crucial time for governments to consider feasible and sustainable financing mechanisms, such as dedicated tobacco and alcohol tax revenues, as part of public financing towards achieving SDGs, especially health goals.

Tobacco use remains one of the world’s leading preventable causes of premature death.

By Wendell C. Balderas.

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