(25 May 2021, Bangkok) As over 140 organizations around the world today called for phasing out cigarette sales, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) reiterates that a phase-out of cigarette sales is the bare minimum that governments should do to fight and end the tobacco pandemic that kills 8 million people globally each year. This is particularly important because smokers face greater risks of COVID-19, which is primarily a respiratory disease.
According to Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, SEATCA’s Executive Director, “selling tobacco products should never have been legalized in the first place. The fact that cigarettes are still sold legally today is a historical abnormality that should be corrected.”
Addicted to profits, it is not surprising that tobacco companies continue to make and aggressively market billions of cigarettes annually. In 2011, Philip Morris spokesperson Anne Edwards admitted that if cigarettes were proposed at that time to be sold as a new product, they would never be allowed because they are “very harmful”, while as early as 1954, Philip Morris vice president George Weissman announced that if the company had any thought or knowledge that in any way they were selling a product harmful to consumers, they would stop business immediately. This promise was repeated in 1972 by Philip Morris vice president James Bowling in a Wall Street Journal interview, and in 1997 by Philip Morris CEO Geoffrey Bible.
SEATCA criticized tobacco companies for their insincerity and unwillingness to end cigarette sales immediately. At the same time, it urged governments to help tobacco users quit by accelerating the implementation of proven tobacco control measures as contained in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, such as high tobacco taxes to reduce affordability of tobacco products, standardized packaging and large pictorial health warnings on tobacco products, bans on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, and 100% smoke-free public places.
In addition, governments “should develop a truly tobacco-free generation by prohibiting tobacco sales to anyone born after a specified date,” said Dorotheo, who cautioned against a new nicotine epidemic brought about by electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products and called for a ban on these products, particularly in countries where the e-cigarette epidemic is only beginning or where robust regulatory capacity is lacking.
This World No Tobacco Day (31 May) is a timely reminder for governments to assess their tobacco control strategies and ensure that they are doing everything they can to quit the tobacco industry and pave the way for a healthy, tobacco-free, sustainable world; one that we all dream to live in as we build back better and healthier.
- SEATCA Tobacco Tax Index 2021
- SEATCA Tobacco Control Atlas: ASEAN Region
- SEATCA’s countdown to World No Tobacco Day 2021
Val Bugnot, Media and Communications Officer, SEATCA
SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control 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.