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World No Tobacco Day: “Tobacco – threat to our environment”

An estimated 198 million people in the Region smoke and around 266 million use smokeless tobacco, accounting for around 20% and 80% of global prevalence, respectively, according to Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia.

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Kolkata: On World No Tobacco Day (WNTD), WHO calls on all countries globally – including in the South-East Asia Region – to take immediate and ongoing action to strengthen tobacco control, with full recognition of tobacco’s devastating impact on health and well-being, as well as the environment – the theme of this year’s WNTD.

An estimated 198 million people in the Region smoke and around 266 million use smokeless tobacco, accounting for around 20% and 80% of global prevalence, respectively, according to Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia.

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She said an estimated 1.6 million people in the Region die of tobacco-related diseases annually. Every year, around 3.5 million hectares of land globally are destroyed for tobacco cultivation, around 90% in the developing world, where countries are prey to intensive tobacco industry interference and marketing tactics. Globally, tobacco cultivation, production and distribution produce an estimated 84 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually, accelerating climate change, reducing climate resilience, wasting resources and damaging ecosystems.

Throughout the COVID-19 response, the Region has continued to sustain and accelerate momentum towards achieving its vision: a tobacco-free future in which all countries fully implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and its MPOWER package, and in which noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are prevented and controlled, in line with the Region’s eight Flagship Priorities. Between 2000 and 2015, the Region reduced estimated tobacco use prevalence from 46.6% to 31.2% – the fastest rate of decline among all WHO regions, Khetrapal Singh said.

She said the Region is currently on track to achieve the WHO NCD Global Action Plan target of a 30% relative reduction in tobacco use prevalence between 2010 and 2025. Globally, the Region continues to lead in gathering knowledge and evidence on tobacco control, including through the FCTC Global Knowledge Hub on smokeless tobacco in India, the Knowledge Hub to track tobacco industry interference in public policymaking in Thailand, and the Centre for Combating Tobacco in Sri Lanka.

Khetrapal Singh said In the South-East Asia Region and across the world, policy makers, industry groups, farmers and other stakeholders must reckon with and address the vast environmental impacts of tobacco cultivation. Tobacco cultivation leads to deforestation and soil degradation. Tobacco manufacturing is a hugely energy-intensive process that depletes water, uses excess fossil fuels and metal resources, and produces an array of toxic solvents, slurries, oils, plastics, and chemicals.

Cigarette butts are by far the largest single type of litter by count, while indiscriminate use of plastic pouches for smokeless tobacco is an emerging environmental concern in many countries of the Region. Tobacco smoke pollutes indoor and outdoor environments and remains a pervasive and persistent source of toxicants long after the cigarette has been extinguished, she said.

“We all share the burden. From start to finish, the tobacco life-cycle damages health and well-being, depletes and degrades the environment, and diminishes Region-wide efforts to promote sustainable and inclusive social and economic development. It impedes our ability to achieve our Flagship Priorities, the “triple billion” targets and Sustainable Development Goals. Together, we must strengthen existing tobacco control measures – including legal and regulatory mechanisms, as well tobacco cessation services, especially at the primary level – and implement the high-impact, evidence-based and cost-effective countermeasures outlined in the WHO FCTC and MPOWER package, reducing not only demand, but also supply,” Khetrapal Singh said.

“On World No Tobacco Day, WHO reiterates its support to all countries of the Region to take immediate and ongoing action to strengthen tobacco control, protecting people and planet, and promoting a healthier, greener and more sustainable future,” she added.

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