September 30, 2009 - As part of an anti-tobacco initiative agreed to last week by countries in the Western Pacific region, the Korean government has set a target of reducing the nation's smoking rate by 10 percent over the coming five years. Tobacco products will see steep tax increases - up to 60 percent - as this has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to combat smoking.
Sixtieth meeting of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, 21–25 September 2009, Hong Kong (China). To strengthen the fight against smoking, the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, WHO's governing body in the Region, endorsed the Regional Action Plan (2010–2014) for the Tobacco Free Initiative, which is designed as a guide for the development and implementation of national action plans on tobacco control. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and the Regional Action Plan 2005-2009 have provided the framework for action to curb the tobacco epidemic in countries. Encouraging progress has been made that needs to be sustained in the years to come. (WHO urges countries to stand firm against tobacco manufacturers' wooing tactics.) Tobacco Free Initiative Regional Action Plan 2005-2009; Tobacco Free Initiative Regional Action Plan 2010-2014.
One third of the world's smokers reside in the Western Pacific Region, where it is estimated that two people die every minute from a tobacco‑related disease.
The World Health Organization has helped member states fighting against the smoking issue by suggesting five-year plans. The pact signed last Wednesday, September 23rd contains the updated version of a 2008 package of policies to reduce the demand for and consumption of tobacco products.
The package includes: monitor tobacco use and prevention policies; protect people from tobacco smoke; offer help to quit smoking; warn about the dangers of tobacco; enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and raise taxes on tobacco.
As the WHO points out, the tobacco industry's lobbying activities and partnership with governments, policymakers and researchers is one of the biggest obstacles in tackling the smoking issue, all member countries should launch national plans based on monitoring indicators and methods set by the international health organization.
According to WHO, the Western Pacific is the only region where all eligible parties have ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which was adopted at the World Health Assembly in 2003.
But that's probably because it's a bigger problem here than in other parts of the world.
"The Western Pacific region has the greatest number of smokers, among the highest rates of male smoking prevalence, and the fastest increase of tobacco use uptake by women and young people, in comparison with the other five WHO regions," said the pact.
In the preface of the initiative, the WHO also reaffirmed that smoking is "the leading preventable cause of death globally. More than 5 million people die worldwide from the effects of tobacco every year - more than from HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
The Korean nation's smoking rate had been falling since 2005 when the government signed the treaty on tobacco control and started to launch no-smoking campaigns. After toughened measures were taken on smoking, the adult smoking rate steadily decreased from 57.8 percent in 2004 to 52.3 percent in 2005, 44.1 percent in 2006 and 42 percent in 2007. But the figure hovered above the 40 percent range recently and started to increase from the second half of last year, according to the latest report in July.
People's financial pressure caused by the global economic crisis has been suggested as one of the main reasons for the increase. Health officials say, however, the slight increase seems to be driven more by the weakening effectiveness of related policies.
"During the early period of smoking regulations, the smoking rate dropped sharply. But those measures are losing momentum after five years and we plan to overhaul the current policies," said a ministry official.
Reference: Plan aims to cut smoking rate 10% by Lee Ji-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org), The Korea Herald, 9/30/2009.
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