Ahead of World No Tobacco Day on 31 May, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged all nations to prepare for plain packaging of tobacco products.
Sharing her views on the same, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, said that tobacco use continues to be a major public health issue across the WHO South-East Asia Region with nearly 246 million people in the region's 11 countries continuing to smoke tobacco and just below 290 million using it in smokeless forms.
Singh said tobacco leads to the deaths of 1.3 million people across the region every year - the equivalent of 150 fatalities per hour.
Experts opine that an efficient way to amplify the 'Tobacco kills' message is to disrupt the psychology of tobacco consumption by making the plain packaging of tobacco products, also known as standardised packaging, mandatory.
Plain packaging means branding and promotional information will be removed from tobacco packaging and replaced by graphic health warnings, dull color combinations, a brand name and a product and/or manufacturer's name in standardised font.
The aesthetic impact of plain packaging is significant, with studies showing that it has tangible effect on the desirability of tobacco products.
As smoking levels decline in high-income countries tobacco companies are increasingly relying on market presence in developing economies, including those of the South-East Asia Region.
This presence must be resisted. Tobacco's impact goes beyond public health, stymieing the growth prospects of developing economies and burdening taxpayers and health systems whose finite resources could be better used elsewhere.
Though all 11 member countries, including Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, have developed and implemented tobacco control legislation, children, youth and adults continue to be subjected to pro-tobacco messages in media and also encounter product advertising at outlets where tobacco is sold. Commitment to stopping the tobacco epidemic must be renewed.
The Seventh Session of the Conference of Parties to the Framework Convention, due to be held by India in November, provides the opportunity to do just that. It also provides an opportunity to emphasise the importance of plain packaging and open discussions on its uptake in the Region.