Tobacco kills: Plain packaging could be the answer

Tuyeimo Haidula, CNS Correspondent, Namibia
Plain packaging on tobacco products makes them less attractive. The death and health risks from smoking is high, and yet the number of new smokers every year continues to grow. In order to address this issue and highlight the devastating impact of tobacco use on health, the World Health Organization commemorates the World No Tobacco Day on 31st May every year. WHO also advocates for policies that help people quit tobacco use and discourage non-users from starting.

This year’s World No Tobacco Day (the 1st to be commemorated after countries adopted the Sustainable Development Goals of post 2030 development agenda) theme was 'Get ready for plain packaging'. Citizen News Service co-organised a webinar with the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) in the lead up to World No Tobacco Day 2016, joining the world in creating awareness against the danger of tobacco. Dr Tara Singh Bam, Regional Advisor (Tobacco Control-Asia Pacific) at The Union said during the webinar that tobacco is a big killer, which kills more than 5 million people globally, and most deaths are in developing countries. Bam said about 800 million adult men worldwide smoke cigarette and 80% of these live in low income countries. He said that there are only two ways to reduce tobacco use - prevent youth from starting to use tobacco and encourage and help smokers to quit. On plain packaging, he said: “It reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products, and eliminates the effects of tobacco packaging as a form of advertising and promotion”.

WHO Director General's awardee and former President of Association of Surgeons of India Professor Dr Rama Kant said that a sense of urgency needs to drive public health programmes in order to prevent tobacco related diseases and premature deaths. “Tobacco related diseases and deaths are preventable, and evidence-based measures are already known to avert this public health disaster,” he said. Yvona Tous of the Policy Advisor of Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) for Tobacco Control lamented that tobacco usage is more common among the poor. Tous said the vicious cycle of smoking, social disadvantage and depravation creates vulnerability to smoking and makes circumstances worse for them. “The diseases caused by tobacco use impose high productivity costs to the economy because of sick workers and those who die prematurely during their working years. Lost economic opportunities in highly populated developing countries will be particularly severe as tobacco use is high and growing in those areas,” she said.

Tous said that although commitments are in place, action is lagging behind. She said that if the world is to reduce by one third premature mortality from non communicable diseases by 2030, then the countries have to improve their tobacco control strategy. Currently in Namibia, the Tobacco Products Control Bill bans 'the smoking of tobacco in a public place, any outdoor public place or any area within a certain distance of a window, ventilation inlet, door or entrance'. In April, 2016 angry inmates at the Windhoek Central Correctional Facility in Namibia rioted over the banning of tobacco at the facility. Commissioner Ismael Kamati, who is responsible for security at Correctional Services, said the inmates were unhappy with the ban on smoking in public places as they are now addicted to the product. However Kamati maintained this was implemented according to the Tobacco Products' Control Act.

Tuyeimo Haidula, Citizen News Service - CNS
June 9, 2016

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