Southeast Asia must strengthen tobacco control: WHO

Although tobacco consumption in Southeast Asia has declined by nearly 30% since 2000, the region remains the world’s largest consumer. The World Health Organization (WHO) is drawing up a picture of the situation in the region and is calling on countries to do more to reduce the consumption of tobacco and nicotine products.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Agency for Southeast Asia estimates in a press release that the phenomenon currently affects 411 million people(1). 280 million of them are mainly oral tobacco products. 77% of the global consumption of these products is produced in these countries.

Significant progress in some countries regarding tobacco consumption

The prevalence of smoking thus fell from 68.9% in 2000 to 43.7% in 2022 for men and from 33.5% in 2000 to 9.4% in 2022 for women. Continuing at this pace, Southeast Asia is expected to achieve its goal of reducing NCDs by 30% by 2030, particularly in India and Nepal. If a “tobacco-free Bangladesh” is planned for 2040, a plan to end smoking in India is expected from 2030 as part of the sustainable development agenda.

Full boom of e-cigarettes, despite some outright bans

According to Saima Wazed, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, “Urgent action is also needed to regulate e-cigarettes, which have not been proven effective in smoking cessation”. The spread of e-cigarette use is evident in Southeast Asia, but there is still a lack of scientific data to prove this. Not all countries take into account the prevalence of vaping in their studies, and data on this topic remain inconsistent(2).

Among the 34 countries in the world that have banned e-cigarettes, several are in Southeast Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, North Korea, East Timor). However, this does not prevent an increase in the prevalence of the use of these products, either alone or in combination with smoked cigarettes. In Thailand, vaping prevalence among 13-15 year olds has increased from 3.5% in 2015 to 17.6% in 2022.

According to the WHO, efforts need to be strengthened

Most countries in the region have implemented a demand reduction strategy with reference to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which includes important provisions of the MPOWER programme. However, due to the high level of tobacco industry interference, the WHO Regional Office urges that all countries in the region continue to take voluntary and committed measures to reduce smoking and vaping. Only such measures would make it possible to significantly reduce the incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disorders and respiratory diseases related to tobacco products.

Keywords: World Health Organization, Southeast Asia, oral tobacco products, electronic cigarettes, MPOWER

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(1) Accelerate measures to control tobacco and e-cigarettes: WHOWHO South-East Asia Region, press release published 20 February 2024, accessed same day.

(2) WHO global report on trends in the prevalence of tobacco use 2000–2030. WHO, report, January 2024, 144 p.

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