WHO raises alarm over tobacco industry’s tactics30 May 2012, New Delhi: On the occasion of World No Tobacco Day on 31 May, WHO is urging governments to beware of the tobacco industry’s interference in tobacco control programme. As countries move to meet their obligations under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), the tobacco industry is becoming more aggressive in its attempts to undermine the treaty by acting against the policies contained in it.
The industry is targeting the youth through increased advertising budgets in several countries of the WHO South-East Asia Region. One in ten school students are offered free samples of tobacco products. The tobacco industry has sued central and local governments over the pictorial warnings on cigarette packets claiming that they infringe on the industry’s rights to use their legally-registered brands and freedom of speech. The Global Adult Tobacco Survey shows that health warnings are effective and a large number of tobacco users noticed the warnings and thought of quitting. Similarly, lawsuits have been filed against smoke-free laws against the Ministries of Health. The apex courts later rejected these contentions and upheld the regulations.
“Governments must protect people’s health from tobacco use and be vigilant about the tobacco industry’s interference in tobacco control measures” said Dr Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia. ”WHO will enhance its support to government initiatives to fight the tobacco industry” he added.
India and Indonesia are among the top ten tobacco leaf producers in the world. In addition the Region is one of the largest producers of smokeless tobacco products. Ninety percent of global smokeless tobacco users live in the Region. Sale of smokeless tobacco products in India increased by over 25% between 2005 and 2010.
Ten out of 11 Member States in WHO’s South-East Asia Region are party to WHO FCTC and nine counties have adopted comprehensive tobacco control legislations. Many countries have established smoke-free public places and banned cigarette advertisements. Sale of tobacco to minors is prohibited in most Member States. Global Tobacco Surveillance has been implemented in ten Member States and nationwide Global Adult Tobacco Surveys have been conducted in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Thailand.
Nepal recently prohibited smoking and chewing tobacco in public places, mandated graphic health warnings and provisions for health funds from tobacco taxation. Thailand has declared all public places 100% smoke-free and banned display of cigarette packs at sale counters. Eight cities were declared smoke-free in Indonesia in spite of the strong influence of the tobacco industry.
Though tobacco and tobacco products are in the sensitive list in South-Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA), the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) aims to eliminate tariff barriers within the Region including tobacco. Tobacco companies in the Region are taking advantage of these liberal cross-border trade areas to the best of their advantage.
WHO is urging governments to protect public health from the tobacco industry’s interference. Nongovernmental groups and academia must monitor and denounce this interference and the community must remain vigilant.