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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

WHO Regional Director Saima Wazed calls for action against tobacco, vaping

  • Bangladesh has announced ‘Tobacco Free’ country by 2024
  • India launches ‘Tobacco Endgame’ initiative
Update : 20 Feb 2024, 02:22 PM

In a decisive call to nations within its South-East Asia Region, the World Health Organization (WHO) is emphasizing the urgent need to escalate actions against the consumption of tobacco and the growing trend of e-cigarette use. 

Despite witnessing a significant drop in tobacco use over the years, the region still holds the dubious distinction of having the highest tobacco consumption rates globally, with vaping numbers also on an alarming upswing.

Saima Wazed, WHO’s regional director for South-East Asia, voiced her concerns on Tuesday, stating: “The region still has the highest number of people using tobacco which puts them at risk of life-threatening diseases such as cancer, respiratory, and heart disease. Urgent measures are also needed to control e-cigarettes, which have not been proven to be effective for smoking cessation. We must do all we can to control tobacco and e-cigarette use to protect health and save lives.”

Highlighting the gravity of the situation, it was revealed that tobacco use in the region has fallen from 68.9% in 2000 to approximately 43.7% in 2022. However, an estimated 411 million individuals still engage in tobacco use according to the latest figures released this year, underscoring a persistent health challenge.

The region accounts for a staggering 280 million smokeless tobacco users, making up nearly 77% of the global figure, and about 11 million adolescent tobacco users aged 13-15 years, representing nearly 30% of the worldwide total. Additionally, the increase in e-cigarette usage, especially among the youth, poses a new threat, with countries like Thailand reporting a sharp rise in vaping among 13 to 15-year-olds from 3.3% in 2015 to 17.6% in 2022.

In response to the growing crisis, nations within the region have taken diverse approaches to tackle the issue. Bangladesh aims for a “Tobacco Free Bangladesh by 2024,” while India has launched its “Tobacco Endgame” initiative. Furthermore, countries like DPR Korea, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Timor-Leste have imposed bans on e-cigarettes, whereas the Maldives treats them as regulated tobacco products.

Despite these challenges, there have been notable successes in tobacco control across the region. Male tobacco use plummeted from 68.9% in 2000 to 43.7% in 2022, and female use saw an even more dramatic decrease from 33.5% to 9.4% during the same period, marking the sharpest decline among all WHO regions. 

These achievements put the region, alongside the WHO African Region, on track to meet the Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) 2025 target of a 30% reduction in tobacco use.

Countries are employing demand reduction strategies as part of the WHO MPOWER package and other initiatives to combat tobacco. 

However, with the tobacco industry’s high level of interference, there’s a pressing need for more assertive enforcement of tobacco control laws and policies to ensure the health and safety of over 2 billion people in the region.

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