Stop the illicit tobacco trade
kills. We have heard these two words a million times, but more than one
billion people around the world continue this vile habit. In fact,
tobacco kills nearly six million people each year. More than five
million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while more
than 600,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand
smoke. Unless urgent action is taken, the annual death toll could rise
to more than eight million by 2030. Nearly 80% of the world's one
billion smokers live in low-and middle-income countries.
In other words, approximately one person dies every six seconds due
to tobacco, accounting for one in 10 adult deaths. Up to half of current
users will eventually die of a tobacco-related disease. Tobacco caused
100 million deaths in the 20th century. If current trends continue, it
may cause one billion deaths in the 21st century.
These are some of the sobering statistics that we across as we mark
the World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) 2015 today (May 31). The theme for this
year focuses on the proliferation of illicit cigarettes in the market.
Here in Sri Lanka, we often hear of the Customs busting illicit
cigarette rackets which deprive the Government of millions of rupees by
way of duties and taxes. There is no such thing as a good cigarette, but
illicit cigarettes do not conform to the minimum safety and quality
standards practised by the legitimate manufacturers. They are marketed
under various names which are not found among the legal manufacturers.
There is another side to this story - the smuggling of legal tobacco
products across boundaries, which deprives states of their due
revenue.One in every 10 cigarettes and many other tobacco products
consumed worldwide are illegal, making the illicit trade of tobacco
products a major global concern from many perspectives, including
health, legal, economic, governance and corruption. The tobacco industry
itself and criminal groups are among those who profit from the illegal
tobacco trade, leaving the public to pay the health and security costs.
pic courtesy: Healthjustice.ph
It is for this reason that combatting the illegal tobacco trade is
the theme of WHO's WNTD in 2015. A key objective of the campaign is to
advocate for the ratification and implementation by governments of the
Protocol to Eliminate the Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, which is a
supplementary treaty to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
Ratification by governments of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade
in Tobacco Products is necessary to respond to the financial, legal and
health impacts of the illicit trade of tobacco products. The public,
academia and other sectors can take action by urging their lawmakers to
make their countries Parties to the Protocol.
"Illicit trade makes tobacco products more affordable and accessible
to people from low income groups, as well as children," according to the
WHO report "Illegal Trade of Tobacco Products". "Illicit tobacco
products are typically sold at lower prices, thereby increasing
consumption. Tax and price policies are widely recognised as among the
most effective means of reducing demand for, and consumption of, tobacco
products," it said. "But the illicit trade undermines tax policies,
facilitates the uptake of tobacco use by youth and increases health
inequalities within the society."
The WHO aims to raise awareness on the harm to people's health caused
by the illicit trade in tobacco products, especially the youth and
low-income groups, due to the increased accessibility and affordability
of these products due to their lower costs. Another problem is that
healthcare gains and programs and tobacco control policies, such as
increased tax and prices, pictorial health warnings and other measures
are undermined by the illicit trade in tobacco products.
The illicit trade of tobacco products has also become a means of
amassing great wealth for criminal groups to finance other organised
crime activities, including drugs, human and arms trafficking, as well
What is even more surprising is that the legitimate tobacco industry
is in no hurry to stem this tide. Internal industry documents released
as a result of court cases demonstrate that the tobacco industry has
actively fostered the illicit trade globally. It also works to block
implementation of tobacco control measures, like tax increases and
pictorial health warnings, by arguing they will fuel the illicit trade.
Hard-hitting anti-tobacco advertisements and graphic pack warnings -
especially those that include pictures - reduce the number of children
who begin smoking and increase the number of smokers who quit. Sri Lanka
has successfully imposed these measures after a long struggle with the
tobacco industry and other interested parties. Studies carried out after
the implementation of pictorial package warnings in Brazil, Canada,
Singapore and Thailand consistently show that pictorial warnings
significantly increase people's awareness of the harms of tobacco use.
Sri Lanka is among the countries that meet the best practices for
pictorial warnings, which includes the warnings in the local language
and cover an average of at least half of the front and back of cigarette
packs. Media exposure is also vital - mass media campaigns can also
reduce tobacco consumption, by influencing people to protect non-smokers
and convincing youths to stop using tobacco.
The WNTD is also an ideal occasion to reaffirm support to the WHO
Framework Convention called MPOWER. Each MPOWER measure corresponds to
at least one provision of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco
Control. These measures urge Governments to: Monitor tobacco use and
adopt prevention policies; Protect people from tobacco use; Offer help
to quit tobacco use; Warn about the dangers of tobacco; Enforce bans on
tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and raise taxes on
tobacco. Sri Lanka has successfully adopted many of these policies and
tobacco use is in decline, despite efforts by the tobacco industry to
target especially the youth.
The industry needs more young people to take up smoking to increase
their profits but Governments around the world must step up their
efforts to reduce tobacco consumption through various effective
measures. Keeping an eye on illicit tobacco smuggling and usage is one
such measure which can make a positive impact on the health indices.