A deadly gathering in Bangkok: TabinfoAsia 2009 looks to roll back anti-tobacco policies in Asia

Bangkok-10 November 2009 — While Asia is struggling to arrest its smoking epidemic, the tobacco industry is planning to recruit more smokers and aggravate the disease and death toll, through its TabinfoAsia 2009 in Bangkok. The tobacco industry sees the Asia Pacific region as ‘one of the world’s most important tobacco markets’. 

“This is a public health nightmare for our people” said Ms. Bungon Ritthiphakdee, Director of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).



Currently around 2.4 million per year die of tobacco-related deaths in Asia. That’s 6,575 deaths per day. And still the tobacco industry is determined to increase its market and profits from the region, spelling more diseases and deaths, particularly for Asia’s poor and underprivileged.

As it stands, almost 31percent (about 125 million) of the adult population in the ASEAN region are already smokers. China has about 350 million smokers and 1 million deaths every year.

“From TabinfoAsia 2009 we can expect the industry to step up its tactics to fight, delay and dilute national tobacco control legislation. We can anticipate this based on the kind of sessions and discussions it has lined up for its upcoming congress. Among other things, TabinfoAsia 2009 will discuss how to wipe the regulatory slate clean, how to make packaging more attractive, and innovations in sustaining addiction through ‘nicotine delivery systems’”, said Ms. Ritthiphakdee.

After the 2005 Tabinfo in Malaysia, we saw how the tobacco companies carried out their delay and dilute tactics in many of the South East Asian countries. For example:

·       In Cambodia it sought to frighten legislators that if they apply graphic warnings on cigarette packs they will violate intellectual property rights and the Basel Convention.

·       In Vietnam, tobacco companies circumvented retailing rules by coming out with a variety of cigarette products and brands.  They then argued that each product line is entitled to its own shelf space, making a mockery of laws intended precisely to limit the display of cigarette brands at points-of-sale.

·       In Indonesia the companies have successfully prevented the legislators from banning tobacco advertising and sponsorship by scaring them with the imaginary threat of adverse impact on farmers, the advertising sector and overall economy. Indonesia has about 63 million smokers and 1,174 people die daily from tobacco-related deaths. The tobacco industry even fought a judicial review to ban advertising on television.  The Indonesian situation is simply scandalous, and the industry is ruthless in its fight against  any legislation on tobacco control. The Indonesians are paying a big price with their lives and health.

Governments should not allow the tobacco industry to bully them with scare tactics. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is an important tool to protect public health and it  enables governments to enact legislation to regulate tobacco. WHO-FCTC Article 5.3 gives governments the right ammunition to keep the tobacco industry from delaying and diluting efforts to regulate tobacco.

SEATCA recommends the following:

1.     Implement WHO-FCTC key obligations without delay. Apply the most stringent measures to protect public health, i.e. high tobacco taxes, graphic health warnings on packs, smoke-free public and work places, and a comprehensive ban on all forms of tobacco promotions including pack display at point of sale and corporate social responsibility activities by tobacco companies.

2.     Implement WHO-FCTC Article 5.3 and expose tobacco industry tactics to delay and dilute regulatory efforts.

3.     The tobacco industry is not a partner in public health. Exclude the tobacco industry from sitting on national and subnational tobacco control task forces.


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