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411 million adult tobacco users in SE Asia, highest globally: WHO

New Delhi, May 30: The Southeast Asia region, which includes India, has about 411 million adult tobacco users — the highest globally, said Saima Wazed, WHO Regional Director on Thursday on the eve of World No Tobacco Day. Observed every year on May 31, World No Tobacco Day was designated in 1987, by Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO) to draw attention to the global tobacco epidemic, and the preventable death and disease it causes. “The fight against tobacco is particularly important for us in South-East Asia.

The tobacco industry’s targeting of youth is rampant across our Member States. As a result, we have a very worrying 11 million adolescents using various tobacco products,” Saima Wazed said in a statement. “Coupled with the approximate 411 million adult tobacco users, our region, unfortunately, has the highest number of adolescent and adult users globally,” she added. The theme this year is “protecting children from tobacco industry interference”.

Saima Wazed lamented that it is “worrying” that the “industry lures youth by aggressively introducing new nicotine and tobacco products such as electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products”. “Young people across the world are calling for the tobacco industry to stop targeting them with products that are harmful to their health.” She said that governments must adopt policies to protect them from the manipulative practices of tobacco and related industries, which includes the relentless marketing of their dangerous products through social media and streaming platforms. Despite having policies and regulations in place, these are becoming increasingly popular with the youth in the SE Asia region, and “social media and other similar platforms are likely to make this worse”.

“The tobacco industry moves with speed to launch new products, using every means to expand market share before regulations can catch up,” the WHO Regional Director said. “They continue to oppose evidence-based measures, such as increases in excise taxes, and comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotions, and sponsorships. They even threaten legal action against governments that try to protect the health of their citizens.” She pointed out the “lagging” efforts by governments and institutions to fight the marketing strategies of the tobacco industry. The WHO chief called for a generational tobacco ban, leading to a ‘Tobacco-Free Generation’. “Our goal for our youth is clear. We want to prevent and reduce tobacco consumption, nicotine addiction, and exposure to new tobacco products.”

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