WHO Commends Laos on Efforts to Reduce Tobacco Demand

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Whether you are a smoker, ex-smoker or non-smoker, the graphic health warnings on a cigarette packaging has more than likely caught your attention.

The use of graphic images as a health warning on tobacco packaging, along with the introduction of tobacco tax has been proven effective in reducing the demand for tobacco products, and World Health Organization (WHO) has praised the Lao Government for its proactiveness in the cause.

On May 26th, the Ministry of Health in partnership with WHO and ASEAN Tobacco Control Alliance convened in Vientiane, to mark the 29th anniversary of World No Tobacco Day and to recognize the various achievements and efforts Laos has made on enforcing WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

According to the Minister of Health, Dr Bounkong Syhavong, smokers aged 15 and over make up 27.9 percent of the country’s population, deeming Laos the second worst in ASEAN countries.  Smoking related deaths, where tobacco is considered to be the main contributor, is estimated at 4,387 deaths per year.

Despite being a member of the International Convention on Tobacco Control for the last eight years, Laos has done an inadequate job of enforcing the laws on tobacco control previously. Vital measures such as maintaining non-smoking areas, collection of tobacco tax and money for the Tobacco Control Fund were continuously ignored year after year.

Dr Dapeng Luo, acting WHO Representative stated, “Tobacco use was rising fast in many countries where control measures are relatively new. But it is not just health that tobacco damages. Tobacco use is a major barrier to sustainable development on several fronts including food security, gender equity, education, economic growth and the environment.”

On a global scale, tobacco kills more than 7.2 million people every year with an estimated 80% of them living in low- to middle-income countries. These countries carry 40 percent of the global economic cost of smoking, from health expenditures and lost productivity estimated at over US$1.4 trillion.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development entails increased multi-sectoral collaboration and support from other ministries to implement the WHO Framework Convention on tobacco control. If executed, it will play a critical part in meeting the Sustainable Development Goal target of reducing premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases by one-third in 2030.

Thanks to legislative measures, several countries have seen a decline in smokers. A WHO report shows that the majority of male smokers have decreased in 125 countries.

However, with tobacco companies losing their share of the market amongst male smokers, they have shifted their focus on to the next generation of smokers, primarily targeting adolescent teens and women.

The use of tobacco among young people aged 13-15 years old has decreased slightly from 8% in 2011 to 6.4% in 2016. However, some young people have shifted to using electronic cigarettes which is up to 5.0% of male and 3.7% of female.

For those aged 15 years and older, there is an increase in the number of male smokers from 43% in 2012 to 50.8% in 2015, but female smokers fell from 8.4 % in 2012 to 7.1 %.

Statistics show that  80-90 % of smokers initiate the habit before the age of 18.

“We need to remain true to the evidence that tobacco kills and be bold in implementing measures that protect our young people. We need to adopt measures that will reduce the demand for tobacco products and promote a healthier, more sustainable world,” said Dr Dapeng.

On World No Tobacco Day, Dr Dapeng urged the government of Laos and its partners to work in unison to combat against the emerging epidemic and reduce the disease burden of noncommunicable diseases as a result of tobacco use.