Ministry of HealthKathmandu, May 13

A week-long South Asia Tobacco Control Leadership Programme concluded here today, underscoring an urgent need to develop appropriate tobacco intervention strategies to make this region smoke-free.

The conference jointly organised by the Ministry of Health, International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Action Nepal brought together 74 delegates from SAARC countries. During the conference, chief guest and Minister for Health Gagan Kumar Thapa announced that Nepal would adopt plain packaging on tobacco products by 2018. Plain packaging is regarded as a comprehensive approach to tobacco control use.

Minister Thapa also shed light on the government’s plan to declare the country tobacco-free by 2030. Minister for Agricultural Development Gauri Shankar Chaudhary informed that the government was making necessary preparations to provide to tobacco farmers cash incentive and agricultural inputs to encourage them to switch to cultivation of cash crops, fruits and vegetables as part of its tobacco control initiative.

Krishna Prasad Devkota, secretary at the Ministry of Land Reform and Management, said the government was committed to utilising the agricultural land for the promotion of food crops while discouraging tobacco farming. He warned that tobacco cultivation and production cause environmental pollution, socioeconomic change and health impact.

The union’s deputy director for Asia Pacific Tara Singh Bam said pictorial tobacco pack warnings and plain packaging were highly effective in discouraging tobacco consumption.  It is a measure to restrict or prohibit the use of logos, colours, brand images or promotional information on packaging other than brand names and product names displayed in a standard colour and font style.

A government report showed current smoking prevalence among male and female is 51.9 per cent and 13 per cent respectively. More than 25,000 people die of tobacco related diseases every year.

Ananda Bahadur Chand, chairperson of Action Nepal, highlighted why Nepal should adopt tobacco-free laws to save millions of lives as it was the leading cause of preventable illness, death, and impoverishment. The leadership programme focused on building capacity to develop effective tobacco control policy and interventions, and a myriad of tobacco topics, including policy development, advocacy, communications, implementation and evaluation, and management and leadership.

The programme was structured around components of the WHO’s MPOWER package of tobacco control interventions. The faculty comprised regional and international experts in areas such as tobacco control policy, economics, communications, advocacy, and research and evaluation, said Steve Tamplin, associate Scientist at Institute for Global Tobacco Control, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

It is the first time that the annual tobacco control leadership programme was held in Nepal, thanks to its ‘praiseworthy initiatives in making and implementing tobacco control laws’, said Chand.