KATHMANDU, NOVEMBER 18
Commending countries, including Nepal, in the World Health Organisation South- East Asia for achieving steep decline in tobacco use, the WHO on Thursday said persistent and concerted efforts over the years, which have continued despite the pandemic, must be sustained and scaled up further to rid the region of the scourge of tobacco.
"Sustained political commitment and relentless efforts by countries to strengthen surveillance, expand tobacco control measures, including services to help users quit tobacco are some of the key reasons for success," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region in a press release.
As per the WHO Global Report on Trends in Prevalence of Tobacco Use 2000-2025 (4th edition, 2021), WHO South-East Asia Region has achieved the fastest rate of decline in the use of tobacco with average prevalence of smoking among men declining from 50 per cent in 2000 to 25 per cent in 2020 and tobacco smoking among women declining steeply from 8.9 per cent in 2000 to 1.6 per cent in 2020. This progress can be attributed to effective implementation of WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and MPOWER package, a set of six cost-effective and high impact measures to help countries reduce demand and supply of tobacco, along with best buys to successfully tackle the tobacco epidemic.
Tobacco use is one of the key risk factors for non-communicable diseases and effective tobacco control is important for prevention. According to the WHO, India and Nepal are among countries likely to achieve 30 per cent relative reduction in tobacco use to meet the target of Global NCD action plan by 2025. If tobacco control efforts continue at the current level, smoking rates in the region can reach as low as 11 per cent in 2025. This would be the second lowest regional average rate after Africa - 7.5 per cent in 2025. As per the WHO, countries in the region sustained tobacco control measures during the pandemic. WHO supported countries to accelerate and strengthen support for tobacco users to quit during the pandemic with evidence that smokers, current and former, are more likely to suffer severe outcomes of COV- ID-19. Targeted strategies are needed to address the challenge of smokeless tobacco use, particularly among women. Almost 40 per cent of women tobacco users use only smokeless tobacco, it said. The region today has the highest proportion of population covered by tobacco surveillance to monitor tobacco use prevalence and tobacco control policies.
Thailand was the first country in Asia to implement plain packaging. Timor-Leste, Nepal, Maldives, India, and Sri Lanka have implemented large-sized graphic health warnings on tobacco packs.
A version of this article appears in the print on November 19, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.