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Thailand becomes first in Asia to introduce tobacco plain packaging; WHO commends efforts

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The World Health Organization yesterday commended stronger tobacco control measures being adopted by Thailand which has become the first in Asia and the first low and middle-income country to adopt plain packaging for tobacco products.

“Thailand’s bold steps against tobacco – the single most important cause of preventable deaths worldwide – is commendable and reflects the country’s earnest efforts in promoting health and well-being of its people,” said Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director of the World Health Organization South-East Asia, congratulating Thailand for the tobacco legislation on plain packaging  adopted last week.

The new legislative announcement on plain packaging is the latest effort of Thai government and adds to the Tobacco Control Act 2017 which enforces 20 years as the minimum age for purchasing tobacco, bans single stick sale and bans tobacco advertisement, promotion and sponsorship.

Plain packaging of tobacco products restricts or prohibits the use of logos, colours, brand images or promotional information on packaging other than brand names and product names displayed in a standard colour and font style. Plain packaging is an evidence-based policy being advocated by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a legal treaty that aims to protect the present and future generation against the devastating health and socioeconomic impact of tobacco use.  

As per Thailand’s new legislation, by September 2019 all tobacco products will have plain packaging. Thailand already has graphic health warnings covering 85% of packaging of tobacco products. The introduction of plain packaging is expected to further boost the country’s tobacco control efforts targeting the current and new users.

The prevalence of tobacco use is high in Thailand with 11 million smokers. An estimated one out of every five adult Thai smokes. Nearly 50% men in the age group of 35-54 years smoke. Of concern is the persistently high tobacco use among young people—one out of every six Thai in the aged group of 13-17 years uses tobacco.

Globally, tobacco kills more than seven million people every year - up to half of its users. Tobacco use is a key risk factor for major non-communicable diseases such as heart attack, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. Non-communicable diseases account for over 70% of all deaths in Thailand.  

Tobacco is not just a health problem but also a socioeconomic issue. Tobacco users who die prematurely deprive their families of income, raise the cost of health care and hinder economic development. Illnesses resulting from tobacco use strain the health system that drain Government’s budget on universal healthcare. In Thailand, the economic loss from tobacco in the year 2009 was estimated at 75 billion Thai Baht or 0.78% of GDP.

Addressing tobacco is important for reversing the growing epidemic of non-communicable disease, a flagship priority program of the WHO South-East Asia Region.

Member countries in the region are in the forefront in the fight against tobacco with four of them listed among the top five countries globally with largest graphic warning on tobacco product packs.  

The Regional Director said WHO remains committed to supporting Thailand and other member countries to protect the present and future generation from tobacco’s deadly impact. 

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