SIEM REAP, Cambodia — Health officials, doctors and anti-tobacco advocates from eight Southeast Asian countries gathered here yesterday for a workshop to bolster efforts against cigarettes which kill 600,000 non-smokers in the region every year.
The workshop was focused on discussing strategies that can be used to implement Article 13 of the World Health Organization-initiated Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC). It was organized by the Thailand-based Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.
Article 13, which pertains to tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS), is a key strategy in the FCTC that has already been either signed or acceded by 172 countries, including the Philippines.
The participants came from Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Brunei, Laos, and the Philippines.
SEATCA director Bungon Ritthiphakdee said the FCTC “calls for inter-sectoral approach to tobacco control” in the wake of the tobacco industry’s aggressive and constantly changing strategies to promote cigarettes.
“This workshop will be another important platform that will strengthen our effort, our capacity and our collaboration to de-normalize the tobacco industry. Selling a product that kills its customers and causes its customers to fall ill is not a normal industry and should not be treated as one,” she said.
Ritthiphakdee said, “It is our duty toward the future generation” to stop TAPS in Southeast Asia.
“Our children and grandchildren will expect us to do our utmost to protect them from a predatory industry,” she added.
In a presentation, Dr. Susan Mercado, WHO-Western Pacific Region Office regional adviser for the Tobacco-Free Initiative, said that tobacco “is the only legal consumer product that kills half of its users when used as directed by the manufacturer.”
“The tobacco epidemic is about to get much worse. It currently kills more than six million per year (in Western Pacific) but this will increase to more than eight million in a few decades,” she said.
The use of cigarettes, which have 7,000 toxic chemicals — 70 of which are carcinogenic — is a “risk factor” for eight leading killer diseases in the world.
These are ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, lower respiratory infection, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, trachea, tuberculosis, bronchus, and lung cancer.
But what is more alarming, Mercado said, is that 600,000 non-smokers die yearly from second-hand smoke in Western Pacific and 28 percent or 167,000 of them are children.
“Tobacco is a lethal and endemic product… Tobacco control is one of the most concrete practical things that a country can do to stop non-communicable deaths,” she added.
Mercado urged the public not to tolerate smokers. She warned that “there is strong and indubitable evidence to show that second-hand smoke kills” and can cause immediate damage to the DNA and is responsible for many debilitating conditions like asthma, and acute respiratory infections, especially among children.
She said that in Germany, Finland and United States, second-hand smoke is considered carcinogenic, while the United States classifies it along with arsenic, asbestos, benzene, randon and vinyl chloride as a toxic substance.
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