PASS or FAIL: ASEAN countries called to step up protection of public health 

Press Statement by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA)

23 February 2022, Bangkok: Tobacco kills 500,000 people each year in the ASEAN alone, and governments need to urgently accelerate their tobacco control efforts, especially in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic, says the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance. According to the 2021 FCTC Scorecard released today, despite major milestones in some countries, most ASEAN member states have made little progress in recent years to fully and effectively implement the evidence-based tobacco control measures contained in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a global public health treaty.

Singapore and Thailand had the highest overall scores for FCTC implementation, while Indonesia, a non-party to the treaty, had the lowest score. 

Key findings of the FCTC Scorecard

Except for Indonesia and Myanmar, all ASEAN countries, have multisectoral national tobacco control strategies and plans in accordance with the WHO FCTC. Effective implementation, however, remains challenging, hampered by persistent tobacco industry interference across all policy areas.  Many countries are failing to adequately address this interference; only Brunei, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand strictly limit interaction and reject any form of partnership with the tobacco industry. 

Most ASEAN countries are also spending too little to protect health. Cambodia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, and Myanmar spend less than USD 0.01 per capita per year for tobacco control. Brunei and the Philippines spend less than USD 0.04 per capita, while Thailand and Vietnam spend around USD 0.15 per capita.

Tobacco tax and price measures have also not been maximized by most countries, despite being  acknowledged by WHO, the World Bank, and health economists as one the most effective fiscal and public health tools to discourage tobacco use while also raising much needed revenues.

Despite the lethal nature of tobacco products, most ASEAN countries still allow tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship (TAPS) in one form or another, including at points of sale, lagging behind international best practice of a complete ban on TAPS. Only Thailand has a comprehensive TAPS ban, while Singapore only needs to ban tobacco industry-related CSR to have a comprehensive ban. Indonesia and the Philippines have the least effective TAPS regulations in ASEAN. A comprehensive review of the TAPS ban laws in ASEAN is discussed in SEATCA’s latest FCTC Article 13 Index Report. 

Major milestones were made by Thailand and Singapore when they were the first Asian countries (and 8th and 15th in the world, respectively) to implement standardized tobacco packaging, while Myanmar is set to implement the same policy by April this year. Incidentally, Singapore and Thailand were the fourth and fifth countries in the world to require pictorial health warnings on tobacco packages 18 years ago, setting the stage for all ASEAN countries to eventually adopt similar warnings.

Tobacco Control Champion Awardees

SEATCA gave international recognition to the outstanding efforts of governments that had implemented best practices in tobacco control in the past 3 years. 

The ministries of health of Thailand and Singapore were recognized for successfully implementing standardized tobacco packaging.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports was awarded for banning tobacco-related CSR in all educational facilities, while the Cambodian National Authority for Combatting Drugs was recognized for banning heated tobacco products in order to protect Cambodia’s youth and save a generation from tobacco addiction.

The Philippine Department of Health was lauded for its steadfast commitment to implement the Civil Service Commission-Department of Health Joint Memorandum Circular to protect the government bureaucracy from tobacco industry interference by rejecting pandemic-related donations of the tobacco industry.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology and Smoke-Free Heritage Sites and Cities Alliance (SHA) were cited for promoting 100% smoke-free tourism. 

Val Bugnot, Media and Communications Manager, SEATCA  
Mobile: +63 917 312 4600

Relevant links:

  1. 1. SEATCA FCTC Scorecard 
  2. 2. SEATCA Article 13 Index: Implementation of Article 13 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in ASEAN Countries
  3. 3. Tobacco industry meddling in Asia’s efforts to protect health during COVID-19 pandemic