Thursday, June 13, 2024

Asia: people and governments are addicted to the deadly weed

Immigration News

cegAccording to reports around 700 million Asians, mostly men, cannot get through the day without puffing on a cigarette.

The habit is thought to kill around 2.3m Asians every year, almost half smoking’s global victims.

Cancer and other tobacco-related diseases are rising sharply.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and a major public health concern.

Tobacco use leads most commonly to diseases affecting the heart and lungs, with smoking being a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema and cancer.

But health ministries are taking tougher action against smoking.

In Asia, Thailand, which banned it in most public buildings in 2003, is holding hearings on a plan to extend the ban to all places of entertainment.

China’s press said this month that cigarette makers would be told to put larger health warnings on their packets, including images of skulls, blackened teeth or diseased lungs.

In India import of cigarettes are band since several years but inside the country the domestic produce of cigarettes are booming meanwhile the price of cigarettes is also high.

In Afghanistan even the numbers of smokers are increasing day by day but still the central government do not have any clear agenda to control that social problem.

Cigarette consumption in China soared between 1970 and 1990 but has fallen slightly since.

There, as elsewhere in Asia, smoking among men is far more common than in the West.

The worry, says Burke Fishburn of the World Health Organization (WHO), is that Asia will follow the Western trend, with more women taking up smoking as men quit. In Vietnam, for example, cigarettes are being peddled to urban women as a “sophisticated” pursuit.

Western tobacco firms, their home markets shrinking, have turned their attention to developing Asia, drawing fire from anti-smoking groups. But, says Mr Fishburn, a bigger worry is the ambitious plan by China’s huge state tobacco monopoly to become a big exporter of cut-price smokes to the rest of the region. Thailand, while extending its smoking bans, also plans a giant new factory for its state tobacco firm.

Almost all Asian countries have signed the WHO’s tobacco-control treaty, committing themselves to restricting the marketing of cigarettes, curbing smoking in public and helping smokers to quit. But they will struggle to change entrenched social customs.

In our neighbor China, for example, cigarettes are a social lubricant, pressed on guests, whose attempts to decline them are often ignored, or on those from whom one wants a favour, whose acceptance of the cigarette implies the favour will be granted.

Tobacco firms are wriggling around the new restrictions. In India, most outdoor advertising has been taken down since it was banned in 2003 but firms are spending heavily on in-store promotional displays, which are still allowed.

Another big obstacle is that Asia’s governments are addicted to the huge revenues they earn from both tobacco taxes and the profits of state tobacco firms. Though Afghanistan’s government is promising to cap cigarette output by 2012.

Tobacco taxes provide a huge amount the Afghan economy a country which will face some economical problem after the international troops pull out by the end of this year.

However, both nicotine-addled countries may be wrong. In each, tobacco taxes are unusually low by world standards. Studies by the World Bank and others suggest that, though raising tobacco taxes succeeds in cutting smoking, it still increases government revenues.

Tougher curbs on cigarette smuggling can have the same effect.

Tobacco farmers could switch to growing, say, oilseeds, for which demand is booming. And Asia’s tobacco firms, in the short term, says Mr Fishburn, need fear neither higher taxes nor tougher advertising bans: they have so much scope to improve their efficiency that they could boost profits even in a shrinking market.

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