South-East Asia has achieved the fastest rate of decline in tobacco use among any other region in the world in 20 years, sustaining tobacco control measures during the Covid pandemic, according to a new WHO Global Report.
The region was estimated to have the highest average rate of tobacco use compared to all other WHO regions, with around 432 million users, or 29% of the total population.
However, the average prevalence of smoking among men in South-East Asia went down from 50% in 2000 to 25% in 2020, while tobacco smoking among women saw a sharp decline from 8.9% to 1.6% during the same timeframe, reports the 4th WHO Global Report on Trends in Prevalence of Tobacco Use 2000-2025.
South-East Asia at present has the highest proportion of the population covered by tobacco surveillance to monitor tobacco use prevalence and tobacco control policies. With continued efforts, smoking rates in the region could reach as low as 11% by 2025.
“Sustained political commitment and relentless efforts by countries to strengthen surveillance, expand tobacco control measures including cessation services to help users quit tobacco are some of the key reasons for success,” said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia.
In Nepal, overall tobacco use went down from 56% of the population in 2000 to 26% in 2020. Meanwhile, 2020 figures put 15% of the Nepali population over 15 years old as smokers.
However, the report lists Nepal among the only two countries in the region, along with India, that are likely to achieve the targeted 30% relative reduction in tobacco use by 2025.
Nepal introduced its Tobacco Control and Regulation Act in 2011 and has some of the strictest smoking laws. The country is far ahead of other nations in the region with its anti-tobacco campaigns and is among few in the region to have scaled-up tobacco cessation services.
However, Nepal, which has imposed a 27% tax on the retail price of tobacco, has the lowest rates of taxation on tobacco products in the region. The WHO recommends a minimum 75% tax share of the retail price of tobacco.
For packaging, Nepal has implemented large-sized graphic health warnings on tobacco packs, requiring that they cover 90% of the front and back of packages. Pictorial, or graphic, warnings are one measure contained in the global blueprint for fighting tobacco use: the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Nepal joined the treaty in 2007.
The FCTC and MPOWER package, a set of six cost-effective and high impact measures to help countries reduce demand and supply of tobacco, contributed significantly to the implementation and effectiveness of tobacco control measures across the country.
Singh also reaffirmed WHO support to member countries towards tackling non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and controlling tobacco, emphasising the importance of WHO’s ‘best buys’— a set of cost-effective interventions for the prevention and control of NCDs.
“The best buys…continue to be at the core of the Regional response, recognising the need for countries to identify & implement the most effective, feasible, and affordable interventions whatever their resource setting,” said Singh.
With sustained and accelerated efforts, and using the power of innovation, countries in the region can fulfill their commitment to FCTC and to the 2030 Sustainable Development agenda, leaving no one behind, read a statement by WHO South-East Asia.
Globally, there are now 1.30 billion tobacco users compared to 1.32 billion in 2015. This number is expected to drop to 1.27 billion by 2025. Sixty countries are on track to achieving the voluntary global target of a 30% reduction in tobacco use between 2010 and 2025, two years ago only 32 countries were on track.