Tobacco: The World Health Organisation (WHO) approach to surveillance of non-communicable disease risk factors survey 2014 shows that 10.8 percent male and 3.1 percent female between the ages of 18 to 69 years are tobacco smokers. The overall prevalence was 7.4 percent.

In the same age group, 26.5 percent men and 11 percent women were users of smokeless tobacco products. The overall prevalence of smokeless tobacco was 19.7 percent.

According to the Global Youth Tobacco survey 2013, on the other hand, prevalence of tobacco use in Bhutan among boys was 39 percent and 23.2 percent for girls.

World No Tobacco Day was observed in five dzongkhags of Paro, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar and Thimphu yesterday to create awareness.

More than 400 participants in uniforms and caps with tobacco free slogans took part in a 6.4km marathon from the YDF parking lot to the Clock Tower Square in Thimphu to mark the day. Participants in other dzongkhags made people aware of laws related to illegal import and ill effects of tobacco consumption.

The WHO presented Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) with a meritorious certificate for their clear vision and outstanding contributions towards combatting tobacco in Bhutan.

A Tobacco Cessation Outline for Tobacco Users, a toll line 112 with the Health Help Centre with the referral hospital was also launched where people can avail counselling and medication services to quit tobacco.

Tobacco smoking and consumption of tobacco products is the single most important cause of preventable deaths in the world today.

BNCA’s senior counsellor, Sonam Jamtsho, said, studies show that around 80,000 to 100,000 youth worldwide. Thus, it is projected that tobacco will be the leading cause of death by the 2020s with one in eight people falling victim to tobacco related diseases,” Sonam Jamtsho said.

WHO and its partners marked the day to highlight the health risks associated with tobacco use and to advocate for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption.

The global tobacco epidemic kills nearly 6 million (M) people annually, of which more than 600,000 are non-smokers dying from breathing second hand smoke. The epidemic will kill more than 8M people annually by 2030 if proper measures are not taken. More than 80 percent of preventable deaths will be among people living in low and middle-income groups from the developing countries.

The theme of the World No Tobacco Day was ‘Get Ready for Plain Packaging’.

Although Bhutan does not produce tobacco products, the theme is relevant, Sonam Jamtsho said. “We can only put an effort to advocate on illegal selling and buying of the smuggled tobacco products and highlight the ill effects of tobacco consumption.”

WHO defines plain packaging as a measure used to restrict or prohibit the use of logos, colours, brand image or promotional information on packaging other than brand and product names. Guidelines to Articles 11 and 13 of the WHO framework convention on tobacco control specifically recommend that parties consider adoption of plain packaging.

Plain packaging reduces attractiveness of tobacco products and restricts the use of tobacco packaging as a form of tobacco advertising and promotion. Plain packaging also increases the effectiveness of health warnings.

In December 2012, Australia became the first country to fully implement plain packaging. In 2015, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland and France passed laws to implement plain packaging from May 2016.

Prizes were awarded to the participants who completed the marathon. Lucky draws were also held to attract people. The audience at the event also signed a pledge for a tobacco free Bhutan.

Thinley Zangmo