New Delhi, 28 May 2013: The World Health Organization is raising the alarm about the fact that nearly three in four children between the ages of 13 and 15 are exposed to pro-cigarette ads on billboards and pro-tobacco messages at sports and other events. These advertisements have been proven to influence them to start smoking. Urging countries to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, WHO is appealing for stronger legislation and enforcement to prevent tobacco-related deaths. It is estimated that nearly 1.3 million people die of tobacco-related illnesses every year in South-East Asia.
Tobacco products are the only legally available products that can kill up to one half of their regular users if consumed as recommended by the manufacturer. WHO monitors and draws global attention to the activities and practices of the tobacco industry in conformity with World Health Assembly Resolution WHA54.18 and the provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
“Statistics show that banning tobacco advertising and sponsorship is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce tobacco demand. A comprehensive ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship could decrease tobacco consumption by an average of about 7%, with some countries experiencing a decline in consumption of up to 16%,” said Dr Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia. “Our efforts should focus on preventing the youth from being exposed to all forms of tobacco advertisement, promotion and sponsorship. Enforcement of a ban on sale of tobacco to minors should also be strengthened,” he added.
Effective monitoring, enforcement and sanctions along with high community awareness are essential for implementing a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Although most countries have tobacco control laws, a ban on advertising of tobacco products needs to be enforced.
Research states that about 1 in 10 students had an object with a cigarette brand logo and 1 in 10 students had been offered free cigarettes by a tobacco company in the Region. Seven in 10 students saw cigarette brand names when watching sports events on television. These data are alarming as they show how the tobacco industry has been using all kinds of techniques to allure the youth to become addicted to tobacco in the Region. Once young people have experimented with tobacco, they are prone to become tobacco users as adults.
In WHO’s South-East Asia Region, several countries have adopted strong legislation to protect their populations. The Health Law regulation in Indonesia covers provisions such as smoke-free public places, pictorial health warnings, and restrictions on tobacco advertising and promotion. In Bangladesh, the amendment of tobacco legislation has been passed by the parliament on 29 April 2013. In India, taxation on cigarettes has been significantly increased. Many Indian states have banned the sale of gutka, which is prevalent among youth in India. Thailand has increased taxation on manufactured cigarettes and on shredded (roll-your-own) tobacco, while Indonesia has simplified its tax structure and increased the tax rates on cigarettes. Myanmar has also significantly increased its tax rates on all forms of tobacco products. Nepal adopted comprehensive tobacco control legislation in 2011 and Sri Lanka adopted regulations on pictorial health warnings in August 2012. Very recently, the Minister of Health in Thailand announced that 85% of space on cigarette packages will be covered by graphic health warnings.
Several countries have banned sponsored events by tobacco companies and others have prohibited the tobacco industry from publicizing their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities. The tobacco industry targets the youth as part of their CSR activities by funding of smoking prevention programmes for youth, rescue efforts during natural disasters, education and research grants, sponsoring of sports and social events etc. Research has shown that their smoking prevention programmes for youth did not prevent the youth from smoking. The research funded by the industry also aims to defend the tobacco industry by diluting the strong evidence of the hazards of tobacco on health. These activities are aimed to gain respect of the public while marketing their tobacco brands.
Each year, the tobacco industry spends billions of dollars around the globe on advertising, sponsorships, and other forms of promotion. Tobacco companies develop massive marketing campaigns to entice specific populations, such as women and young people, to become long-term smokers. Studies show that tobacco marketing recruits new tobacco users, maintains use among current users, reduces a tobacco user’s willingness to quit, and encourages former users to start using tobacco again. Therefore, only comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship are truly effective at reducing tobacco use.
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.
More information on World No Tobacco Day can be accessed at our website: www.searo.who.int
Ms Vismita Gupta-Smith, Public Information and Advocacy Officer, WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia. E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Nyo Nyo Kyaing, Regional Adviser Tobacco Free Initiative, WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia. E-mail:email@example.com