Comprehensive systems to monitor tobacco use and prevention policies should be implemented region-wide.

This is one of the highlights of the latest WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, a press release from WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia states.

Regional director for WHO SEARO, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, in the press release, said gathering high-quality information on tobacco usage and policy implementation is critical for governments to promote health, save health care costs and identify tobacco industry interference in policymaking and implementation.

To support this, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said that the WHO SEARO is evaluating the implementation of tobacco control policies in all member countries. In doing so, it is looking beyond MPOWER to the broader Sustainable Development Agenda and its emphasis on universal health coverage.

MPOWER measures are intended to assist in the country-level implementation of effective interventions to reduce the demand for tobacco. It stands for Monitoring tobacco use and preventing policies; Protect people from tobacco smoke; Offer help to quit tobacco use; Warn about the dangers of tobacco; Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and Raise taxes on tobacco.

The report also found that life-saving tobacco control policies covered more people than ever before, including those in the SEAR.

The report documents how 63 percent of the world’s population is now covered by at least one comprehensive tobacco control measure mandated by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), from graphic warnings on tobacco packages to bans on tobacco advertising.

Substantial progress has been made in implementing the WHO FCTC since its adoption in 2003, the report states.

According to the report, the progress that has been made so far is encouraging. But while progress in implementing comprehensive tobacco control policies has been steady, it has also not been enough to end the tobacco epidemic.

Some 2.7 billion people still have no protection from the illness, disability, and death caused by tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure, or from associated economic, environmental and social harms.

“Even though tobacco use has declined in some countries and regions, population growth means the absolute number of tobacco users is not yet decreasing,” the report states.

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said all countries in the region now have laws and regulations that require specific warnings on tobacco packages. “All countries have sought to curb tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship. Some have done so comprehensively.”

Bhutan enacted its legislation on tobacco control in 2010.

Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority (BNCA), the national narcotics regulatory authority recently initiated a three-week inspection from July 10 to monitor public compliance to the provisions of tobacco and drug laws. As of July 14, the team intercepted 41 cases related to noncompliance tobacco control rules and collected a fine amount of Nu 36, 820.

The inspection is carried out jointly with the officials from departments of trade, customs and revenue, thromde, and police. This year, between January and February, BNCA with the help of dzongkhag officials carried out inspection in Wangdue, Bumthang, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Trongsa, Trashigang, Samdrupjongkhar and Trashiyangtse.

Member countries across the region are adopting and acting on the six MPOWER strategies to support FCTC implementation, and are even going beyond them, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said.

She said taxation of tobacco products, for instance, can be simplified and increased. A number of countries in the region continue to go light on tobacco price mark-ups, while non-uniform or complex tax structures persist.

The report states that tobacco control is not a quick or easy process, with interference by the tobacco industry presenting barriers to be overcome. While setbacks can be expected, successes by countries that have overcome obstacles show how focusing on factors that prevent progress can help forge a better path forward and produce real gains.

Staff Reporter