ith smoking now under increasingly heavy fire, Sri Lanka joins the international community today in marking World No-Tobacco Day. The World Health Organisation (WHO) in a statement has called on all countries to get ready for plain or standardised packaging of tobacco products. The WHO says plain packaging of tobacco products is an important demand reduction measure. It reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products, restricts use of tobacco packaging as a form of marketing, limits misleading packaging and labelling, and increases the effectiveness of health warnings.
Though wags have described smoking as a flame at one end and a fool at the other, the WHO’s latest update on tobacco is shocking. Tobacco kills up to half of its users—that means about six million people each year. More than five million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while more than 600,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.
Nearly 80 percent of the world’s one billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries, where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest, though most of the tobacco giants are based in rich countries.
The WHO says the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. Tobacco users who die prematurely deprive their families of income, raise the cost of health-care and hinder economic development.
In some countries, children from poor households are frequently employed in tobacco farming to provide family income. These children are especially vulnerable to “green tobacco sickness”, which is caused by the nicotine that is absorbed through the skin from the handling of wet tobacco leaves, the WHO says.
Good monitoring tracks the extent and character of the tobacco epidemic and indicates how best to tailor policies. Only 1 in 3 countries, representing one third of the world’s population, monitors tobacco use by repeating nationally representative youth and adult surveys at least once every five years.
According to the WHO second-hand smoking or passive smoking is the smoke that fills restaurants, offices or other enclosed spaces, when people burn tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars and beedi.
Are you shocked? Here is more.
Scientists say there are more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke. Of these, at least 250 are known to be harmful and more than 50 are known to cause cancer. In Sri Lanka, with President Maithripala Sirisena giving power-packed leadership to the battle against tobacco smoking, he will preside at a special event to be held at the BMICH today to mark World No-Tobacco Day. This has been organised by the Ministry of Health and the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA), which is now headed by health rights activist Dr. Palitha Abeykoon.
As Health Minister till the end of 2014, Mr. Sirisena had led a fiery battle for an 80 percent pictorial health warning on packets of cigarettes. But in July 2014, on a petition filed by Sri Lanka’s leading tobacco manufacturer, the Supreme Court ruled that health warning should cover 60 percent of the packet. However, after Mr. Sirisena was elected President, Parliament approved legislation in March last year for the health warning to cover 80 percent of the packet. According to Health Ministry statistics the Ministry spends about 27 percent of its budgetary allocation each year on treating patients with smoking-related diseases. It says 60 to 65 people die each day from illnesses caused by tobacco smoking.
NATA, in a media statement said the economic and social harm caused by tobacco smoking was immense and therefore it could be considered a major hindrance to the midterm strategic and eco-friendly development strategy of the new National Unity Government.
It said that according to the latest surveys, smoking among adults and young people had come down steadily. But NATA is taking new steps to strengthen tobacco control through different approaches and building capacity for implementing the NATA Act, including a new tobacco taxation policy, which would simultaneously increase the State revenue, while further reducing consumption.