Wednesday, May 22, 2013

ASEAN governments urged to plug loopholes in tobacco promo curbs

Noting loopholes in measures curbing tobacco promotions across the region, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) has called on all ASEAN governments to strictly ban all advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of tobacco products. It said only comprehensive efforts by national governments can prevent the gaps from being exploited by the tobacco industry.

Most governments in the region have laws to limit access to tobacco products but these are not comprehensive enough, and do not yet completely meet requirements under the commitments set out in Article 13 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), said SEATCA.

Bungon Ritthiphakdee, SEATCA director, said, "While we have made progress in the region, however there is still room for the tobacco industry to communicate directly with young people. The loopholes must be plugged."

Ritthiphakdee said the tobacco industry is "resorting to tactics to circumvent laws and policies, to promote their toxic products, particularly to our women and children." She noted that, “Southeast Asia is the tobacco industry cash cow, and companies such as Philip Morris International (PMI) salivate when expanding its market in our region. Most unfortunately for our people especially the young, they have tagged Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand as growth opportunities in the ASEAN. PMI’s gain is our loss – more disease and death for us.”

The FCTC is a global treaty to which all ASEAN countries, except for Indonesia, are parties. The treaty outlines goals and objectives to which parties are committed, all with the view of curbing tobacco use. Article 13 of the FCTC recognizes that only "comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS) would reduce the consumption of tobacco products", and should therefore be pursued by all parties.

In particular, Ms. Ritthiphakdee said ASEAN government officials and leaders must address policy and legal loopholes in these critical areas:

1. Tobacco pack display at points-of-sale (POS): In the ASEAN region, only Thailand and Brunei have put in place laws to totally restrict the visibility of tobacco products at points-of-sale, such as shops fronts, grocery and convenience store counters.

2. Tobacco industry related Corporate social responsibility (CSR): In practically all countries in the entire ASEAN, tobacco companies sponsor CSR activities to buy public goodwill to associate their corporate name with good works . Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Malaysia, Laos have no bans whatsoever on these types of CSR.

3.Cross-border promotions:  Only Singapore and Cambodia have cross-border advertising bans. Malaysia has a partial ban, while Thailand still allows live telecasts from neighboring countries that let harmful tobacco messages to reach its people. The rest of the region has no policy to recognize that this gaping loophole can be used by the tobacco industry to target anyone anywhere, regardless of national laws.

4.Social media. Brunei, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have total bans on the use of social media platforms to promote tobacco use.  Despite bans in Malaysia, there are still groups and individuals uploading images of cigarette brands, packs, all targeting the youth. This should be considered direct advertising of cigarettes. A comprehensive ban on TAPS should cover such online advertising and all social media, the main communication medium of the young.

"Given the nature of our cross-border economies, the power of new media, and the marketing and lobbying prowess of the tobacco industry, the governments of ASEAN have no choice but to close ranks behind efforts to stop the promotion of tobacco products," she added.

SEATCA called on the ASEAN governments to step up bans on TAPS and "Take action now!" as SEATCA launched a booklet on the WHO FCTC Article 13, (soft copy here: ahead of the celebration of World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) on May 31.  The theme of this year's WNTD is precisely, "Ban Tobacco Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship.”-Interaksyon

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