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Asia pays heavy price on front line of ‘smoking epidemic’

Thursday, 15 August, 2013, 12:00am



Howard Winn

Hong Kong-based anti-smoking lobbyist Judith Mackay has been writing in The Lancet about efforts to control smoking in the region. “Asia is at the front line of the tobacco epidemic,” she says.

It has the highest number of tobacco users in the world, and more than half of the world’s tobacco is consumed in Asia, making it “the prime target of transnational tobacco companies”.

The region is paying a high price for its involvement with tobacco. On the mainland, between 2003 and 2008, some 3.2 per cent of total health-care expenditure went on treating tobacco-related illnesses. The Asian Development Bank last year estimated that without taxation smoking would eventually kill 267 million current and future cigarette smokers who are currently alive in China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.

Tobacco control measures employed in the region since 1980 have seen the rate of smoking in men halved in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore.

The World Health Organisation estimates that in Southeast Asia some 1.3 million people die every year from tobacco-related disease, whereas in the western Pacific region two people die every minute, “placing a huge burden on health-care systems”.

Interestingly, Mackay observes that one of the obstacles to tobacco control include “governments’ preoccupation with other events or diseases that cause far fewer deaths than tobacco, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome, avian influenza, or financial crises”.

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