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World | National

WHO, US National Cancer Institute: Tobacco use drains countries of US$1 trillion yearly

WHO also warned that the market power of tobacco companies has increased in recent years, posing challenges to tobacco control. File photograph by Bernard Testa.
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA - Tobacco use drains governments all over the world of over US$ 1 trillion every year in healthcare expenditures and lost productivity, even as six million people are estimated to die annually of related diseases.

This is according to The Economics Of Tobacco and Tobacco Control, a study published by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the United States.

"The tobacco industry produces and markets products that kill millions of people prematurely, rob households of finances that could have been used for food and education, and impose immense healthcare costs on families, communities and countries," said WHO Assistant Director-General for Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) and mental health, Dr. Oleg Chestnov.

In a WHO news release Tuesday, Chestnov called the economic impact of tobacco "huge".

Some 226 million smokers are poor. Of the 1.1 billion smokers aged 15 and older, 80 percent live in low- and middle-income countries.

"Tobacco use is increasingly concentrated among the poor and other vulnerable groups," WHO pointed out.

By controlling tobacco use, such marginalized groups will not have to bear such a heavy "health and economic burden".

The report stresses that policies such as tobacco tax and price increases will "greatly reduce tobacco use and protect people's health from the world's leading killers, such as cancers and heart disease".

NCDs like cardiovascular disease, cancers, chronic obstructed pulmonary disease, and diabetes account for about 16 million premature deaths (which means before a person's 70th birthday) every year, said WHO.

Reducing premature deaths from NCDs by one-third by 2030 is one of the Sustainable Development Goals, and cutting down tobacco use is a major contributor towards achieving this.

According to the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), in a related press release on Wednesday, half of all adult men in Southeast Asia smoke. Ten percent of the world's smokers also live in Southeast Asia, where 500,000 people die due to tobacco use annually.

Tobacco use also robs Southeast Asian governments of US$ 10 billion in healthcare costs and lost productivity annually.

On an optimistic note, WHO pointed out that "annual excise revenues from cigarettes globally could increase by 47 percent, or USD 140 billion, if all countries raised excise taxes by about USD 0.80 (or about P40) per pack. Additionally, this tax increase would raise cigarette retail prices on average by 42 percent, leading to a 9 percent decline in smoking rates and up to 66 million fewer adult smokers."

But SEATCA noted that cigarette prices remain "very low" at less than USD 1 per pack (or P50) in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines.

WHO said that practices such as banning the tobacco industry's marketing activities, putting graphic health warnings on the packaging, implementing smoke-free policies, and creating programs to help people stop smoking are cost-effective ways to reduce demand for tobacco.

To illustrate, WHO said that from 2013 to 2014, global tobacco excise taxes generated almost USD 269 billion in government revenues, while less than USD 1 billion was invested in tobacco control.

WHO also stressed that tobacco control does not harm economies.

"The number of jobs dependent on tobacco has been falling in most countries, largely due to technological innovation and privatization of once state-owned manufacturing ... Programs substituting tobacco for other crops offer growers alternative farming options," it said.

On the supply side, WHO recommended that governments crack down on the illicit trade in tobacco products to reduce tobacco use.

"High levels of corruption, lack of commitment to addressing illicit trade, and ineffective customs and tax administration have an equal or greater role in driving tax evasion than do product tax and pricing," the press release read.

WHO also warned that the market power of tobacco companies has increased in recent years, posing challenges to tobacco control.

"Progress is being made in controlling the global tobacco epidemic, but concerted efforts are needed to ensure progress is maintained or accelerated," WHO said. "In most regions, tobacco use prevalence is stagnant or falling. But increasing tobacco use in some regions, and the potential for increase in others, threatens to undermine global progress in tobacco control."

SEATCA Executive Director Bungon Ritthiphakdee said that Southeast Asia is on the right track, but still has "significant room for improvement to strengthen (its) tobacco control measures".

"The global scale of suffering, death, and disease from tobacco use is staggering. Millions of early deaths can be prevented if nations adopt evidence-based tobacco control policies," added NCI Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences director Robert Croyle, Ph.D.

See the study by WHO and NCI at