Bangkok, 29 May 2018: As the World Health Organization 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 7 million deaths a year globally, including half a million in the ASEAN region.
“At the heart of the problem is a heartless industry that profits from making, promoting, and selling addictive and lethal products that cause numerous preventable deaths, such as from heart disease,” said Ms. Bungon Ritthiphakdee, Executive Director of SEATCA. “We call on all governments to strengthen regulatory policies and measures to ‘Stop the industry in order to stop the problem’.”
The epidemic caused by the tobacco industry is preventable if governments deliver well on their obligations to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). ‘Business as usual’ is clearly not an option anymore. Governments must step up their efforts to align their policies with the FCTC, such as imposing high taxes to make tobacco products continually less affordable, banning all tobacco advertising and promotions including at point-of-sale, introducing plain tobacco packaging with large graphic health warnings, and enforcing laws requiring 100% 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 that historically has employed a multitude of deceptive and insidious tactics to threaten, weaken, or kill life-saving tobacco control measures all over the world. For example, tobacco companies use self-funded illicit trade studies to fight tobacco tax increases in many countries such as Vietnam and Philippines. Imperial Tobacco continues to short-change the Lao government by exploiting an unfair 25-year investment deal. In Singapore and Thailand, the industry is fighting plain packaging efforts after blocking plans in Malaysia. In Indonesia, tobacco companies fight all tobacco control measures to keep the country a profit paradise for the industry.
Adding insult to injury, tobacco companies refuse to accept liability for the many harms 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 exempt from accountability. It is time that the tobacco industry is stopped, held liable, and made to pay the high costs of harm it causes to its consumers and to society.
“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 forward towards better public health and corporate accountability,” remarked Ritthiphakdee.
Tobacco use remains one of the world’s leading causes of preventable premature death. In the ASEAN region where half of all adult men smoke and where 10% (125 million) of the world’s smokers live, tobacco-caused 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.
SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the evidence-based tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control movements in Southeast Asia, the WHO bestowed on SEATCA the World No Tobacco Day Award in 2004 and the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award in 2014.