‘Comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship could decrease consumption’

Despite laws and sustained advocacy by health groups to ensure that children are not exposed to tobacco promotion and sales pitches, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has found that nearly three in four children between 13 and 15 years are still being exposed to pro-cigarette advertisements on billboards and pro-tobacco messages at sports and other events.

Urging countries to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, the WHO said these advertisements have been proven to influence children to start smoking. Estimating that nearly 1.3 million people die of tobacco-related illnesses every year in South-East Asia, the organisation has appealed for stronger legislation and enforcement to prevent tobacco-related deaths in the region.

WHO regional director for South-East Asia, Dr. Samlee Plianbangchang said: “Statistics show that banning tobacco advertising and sponsorship is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce tobacco demand. A comprehensive ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship could decrease tobacco consumption by an average of about 7 per cent, with some countries experiencing a decline in consumption of up to 16 per cent.”

The organisation monitors and draws global attention to the activities and practices of the tobacco industry in conformity with World Health Assembly Resolution WHA54.18 and the provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

“Our efforts should focus on preventing the youth from being exposed to all forms of tobacco advertisement, promotion and sponsorship. Enforcement of a ban on sale of tobacco to minors should also be strengthened,” added Dr. Plianbangchang.

Stating that effective monitoring, enforcement and sanctions along with high community awareness are essential for implementing a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, non-government organisation Voluntary Health Association of India’s executive director Bhavna Mukhopadhyay said: “Although most countries have tobacco control laws, a ban on advertising of tobacco products needs to be enforced.” Research states one in 10 students had been offered free cigarettes by a tobacco company in the region and that seven in 10 students saw cigarette brand names when watching sports events on television.

“These data are alarming as they show how the tobacco industry has been using all kinds of techniques to allure the youth to become addicted to tobacco. Once young people have experimented with tobacco, they are prone to become tobacco-users as adults,” noted Ms. Mukhopadhyay.

While in India, taxation on cigarettes has been significantly increased and many States have banned the sale of gutka , many countries in the South-East Asian region have banned sponsored events by tobacco companies and others have prohibited the tobacco industry from publicising their corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.

“The tobacco industry targets the youth as part of their CSR activities by funding of smoking prevention programmes for youth, rescue efforts during natural disasters, education and research grants, sponsoring of sports and social events etc,” warned Ms. Mukhopadhyay.

  • Nearly 1.3 million people in South-East Asia die of tobacco-related illnesses every year

  • One in ten students are offered free cigarettes by tobacco companies in the region

  • According to WHO estimates, nearly 1.3 million people in South-East Asia die of tobacco-related illnesses every year and one in ten students were offered free cigarettes by tobacco companies.