Accelerate actions to slash tobacco use across South-East Asian Region: WHO

WHO's South-East Asia Region comprises of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

WHO Thursday asked its South-East Asian member countries, including India, to accelerate actions to slash tobacco consumption and said its use in all forms is a major cause of illness, disability and death across the region.

It also asked its member countries to undertake targeted actions like developing youth-focused anti-tobacco campaigns, increasing the cost of the product and protecting people from its exposure.

On the eve of the World No Tobacco Day, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, Poonam Khetrapal Singh said region-wide, almost 246 million people smoke tobacco and just below 290 million consume it in a variety of smokeless forms.

“Together, both methods of consumption kill approximately 1.6 million people region-wide every year, negatively impacting the sustainable development of whole communities and countries,” Singh said.

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

Singh lauded the member states for taking actions in recent years to lift tobacco’s burden saying ten of them are Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

Each one of them is striving to reduce relative tobacco use by 30 per cent by 2025, in line with WHO’s noncommunicable disease action plan, she said.

Almost all have mandated that graphic warnings be displayed on tobacco products, while the push for plain packaging is gathering pace, with Thailand implementing the policy last year – the first country in Asia to do so, she pointed out.

Highlighting several areas which demand targeted focus, including by the accelerated roll-out of key evidence-based policy interventions, Singh said preventing youth from initiating tobacco use is first among them.

“A powerful means to make this happen is by developing youth-focused anti-tobacco messaging campaigns, with research showing that even generic campaigns slash the likelihood of a young person becoming an established smoker by more than 50 per cent,” she said.

Increasing the cost of tobacco products is another proven way to reduce youth demand, with young people two-to-three times more likely to quit or smoke less as a result of price hikes than other demographics, she said.

Protecting people from exposure to tobacco smoke in the workplace and public spaces is similarly important, especially for lung health – the focus of this year’s World No Tobacco Day.

“Discouraging and preventing smoking in the workplace, tobacco users will be given new incentives to quit, while co-workers will be spared breathing the thousands of harmful chemicals tobacco smoke contains.

“Importantly, smoke-free policies that apply to both covered and open public spaces are crucial to preventing lung cancer and chronic respiratory disease and helping stop the spread of tuberculosis,” she said.

To support and amplify the impact these interventions have, robust services should be provided to help tobacco users quit tobacco, Singh said.

Region wide tobacco cessation counselling should be provided at the primary level, while quit lines should be free and accessible to all, she pointed out.

Nicotine replacement therapies such as patches, gum or lozenges should likewise be at hand, with research showing that they can double the chance a person will successfully quit, especially when administered in conjunction with brief counselling and as part of a quit plan, she added.

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