AS the World Health Organisation focuses on “tobacco and heart disease” for this year’s World No Tobacco Day, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (Seatca) puts the spotlight on the heartless tobacco industry, which is responsible for more than seven million deaths a year globally, including half a million in the Asean region.
Seatca executive director Bungon Ritthiphakdee said: “At the heart of the problem is a heartless industry that profits from making, promoting, and selling addictive and lethal products that cause preventable deaths, such as from heart disease.
“We call on governments to strengthen regulatory policies and measures to stop the industry to stop the problem.”
The epidemic caused by the tobacco industry is preventable if governments deliver on their obligations to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
“Business as usual” is not an option any more.
Governments must step up their efforts to align their policies with FCTC, such as imposing high taxes to make tobacco products continually less affordable; banning tobacco advertising and promotions, including at point of sale; introducing plain tobacco packaging with large graphic health warnings; and enforcing laws requiring smoke-free public places.
Preventing premature deaths from tobacco is a compelling public health imperative.
Governments should not be intimidated by the scare tactics of the tobacco industry, which employs many tactics to threaten, weaken or kill life-saving tobacco-control measures.
For example, tobacco companies use self-funded illicit trade studies to fight tobacco tax increases in many countries, such as Vietnam and the Philippines.
In Singapore and Thailand, the industry is fighting plain-packaging efforts after blocking plans in Malaysia.
Adding insult to injury, tobacco companies refuse to accept liability for the harm and deaths their cigarettes have caused.
While other industries are required to pay for damages they cause to communities and the environment, the tobacco industry pretends it should be exempted from accountability.
It is time the industry be held liable.
Ritthiphakdee said: “In terms of magnitude of harm and death, no other industry comes close to the tobacco industry.
“Requiring the tobacco industry to pay for costs of treating tobacco-related diseases is a game-changer and a step towards better public health and corporate accountability.”
Tobacco use remains one of the world’s leading causes of preventable premature death.
In the Asean region, tobacco-related diseases kill about 500,000 people per year.
Tobacco is the only legal product that kills half of its users when used exactly as intended by its manufacturers.
WENDELL C. BALDERAS
Media and communications manager, Seatca