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WHO seeks comprehensive ban on tobacco ads

MANILA, Philippines - The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a “comprehensive ban” on tobacco advertising and promotion in the Philippines and other countries in the Western Pacific Region.

Shin Young-soo, WHO Western Pacific regional director, said the ban should include point-of-sale (POS) advertising.

Shin said children are exposed to POS advertising because cigarettes are often sold near candy and other children’s items.

He said POS is the last refuge of tobacco companies in countries that have banned tobacco advertising.

Shin said brand recognition remained high in Hong Kong at 30 to 64 percent among children whose families were non-smoking despite the ban in tobacco advertising because POS advertising and sponsorship were not controlled.

“As called for in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, governments must comprehensively ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship,” Shin said.

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“We must halt the tobacco industry’s aggressive marketing of its products, which cause addiction, suffering and millions of deaths each year,” he added.

WHO said the comprehensive advertising ban had reduced the number of people starting and continuing smoking.

Nearly 80 percent of countries and areas in the region ban direct advertising of tobacco on national television, and half ban placement of tobacco brands in television and films.

Indirect advertising

WHO said the tobacco industry has shifted to indirect advertising, such as sponsorship of sports or cultural events and viral marketing, including word-of-mouth marketing, to subvert marketing bans.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, implemented in 2005, obliges its 176 parties to take action to reduce demand for and supply of tobacco products, including protecting people from exposure to tobacco smoke; counteracting illicit trade, banning advertising, promotion and sponsorship; banning sales to minors; putting large health warnings on packages of tobacco; increasing tobacco taxes and creating a national coordinating mechanism for tobacco control.

The Western Pacific region is the only one among six WHO regions in which all eligible member states have ratified the WHO framework.

As this developed, a group of cancer survivors and former smokers urged the government to enact stricter anti-smoking measures.

The New Voice Association of the Philippines said existing anti-smoking laws are not strong enough to meet the requirements of WHO.

“As the tobacco industry loses its grip in the West, it has turned its eyes on ASEAN, specially the Philippines, to promote its deadly products. The fact that we are lagging behind our neighbors in terms of having anti-smoking laws has provided a way for the industry to go on promotion overdrive and undermine measures that are already in place,” NVAP’s president Emer Rojas said.

Tobacco use is a leading cause of preventable death, killing nearly six million people globally each year. Of this number, more than 600,000 are non-smokers who die from exposure to second-hand smoke.

Unless urgent action is taken, WHO said the annual death toll due to tobacco could rise to more than eight million by 2030.

No smoking in gov’t offices

Meanwhile, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) has teamed up with the Department of Health in intensifying the campaign against cigarette smoking in government offices.

Under the joint effort, the CSC is tasked with informing government employees of the policy against tobacco industry interference.

The CSC said it initiated the smoking ban in government offices as early as 1991.

In 2009, the CSC reiterated its commitment to a 100 percent smoke-free bureaucracy with the project “Race Towards a Smoke-Free Civil Service,” which consisted of seminars and trainings for state workers nationwide.

The CSC recently launched “Race Towards Tobacco Industry-Free Civil Service,” which evaluates the effectiveness of the established enforcement and monitoring mechanism in assessing compliance with policies on tobacco industry interference.

The CSC said two tracks of monitoring – testing of standardized compliance monitoring systems in the field and conduct of regular and spot investigations or audits –will be put in place. – With Michael Punongbayan

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