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Kicking the butt

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(Tax is the most effective intervention in tobacco control ) (Tax is the most effective intervention in tobacco control ) Pic by Chandana Wijesinghe

International Network of Health Promotion Foundation Secretary General Professor Prakit Vathesatogkit is an advisor to Thai Health Promotion Foundation, in Thailand.

He and his team have been engaged in the tobacco control movement in Thailand since 1986. He has been a member of the National Committee for Tobacco Control since 1989, being actively involved in all major policy advocacy, tax, pictorial health warnings, TC Act and the setting up of a Health Promotion Fund in Thailand.

“Tobacco control is very important for a country since tobacco use is the most important preventable cause of premature death. It is also the cause of creating economic loss and poverty in a country.” Dr. Prakit said.

He emphasized the importance of medical professionals taking up the leadership in preventing people from picking up the habit of smoking and helping those who are addicted to stop. According to his opinion “smoking is a disease by itself”.

Medical professionals, who have the highest knowledge in health and it being the most prestigious profession to lead the public toward better health, should prevent people from smoking. “A country cannot progress in health without the active involvement of health professionals, in this sphere,” Dr. Prakit emphasized.

The other stakeholders in promoting tobacco control are all leaders who form opinion in society, academe, all Ministries, civil societies, community groups and media.

“I observe in third world countries tobacco control initiatives are getting much worse due to late initiations to adopt policy decisions in tobacco control. Political will for tobacco control efforts is very much lacking while tobacco industry interference is widely prominent and visible. Lack of multi-sectoral involvement at all levels is mostly prominent.

“A government should think of the people’s health before revenue or other perks from the tobacco industry. If a government needs to generate income from tobacco, there are two policy options. Either choose to generate income from tobacco taxes by implementing strong tobacco control programs including regular tax increases or choose to generate income from tobacco taxes by implementing weak tobacco control programs with less emphasis on tax increases.” Dr. Prakit pointed out.

The first option will generate much more net income for the country, stabilizing tobacco consumption and decreasing healthcare costs. While using the second option, the government will receive much less tax revenue, increase smoking consumption and health costs. A government may choose the second option, either due to ignorance or inability to overcome industry influences or due to corruption.

“In the context of Sri Lanka, it is making some progress, but activists need to persistently do more de-normalization of tobacco industry and more policy advocacy and also more funding to support tobacco control is essential,” he said.

Professor Prakit was of the opinion that implementation of pictorial health warnings is one of the best strategies in tobacco control since it incurs no cost to a government. Most importantly, it deglamourizes the cigarette pack and denormalizes the cigarette product as well. Selling cigarettes in loose pack is a problem, but need to be addressed directly.

In ‘tobacco control world’ there is a thing called, ‘scream test’. If the tobacco industry keeps quiet when you do something, then the thing that you did probably will have little or no effect in tobacco control.  If the tobacco industry gets agitated or works against what we did or proposed, it means that we did the “right thing”. If they seek legal remedy against what we did, it means that we have taken “effective measures”.

Australia’s success in reducing smoking is powerful evidence that strong measures like plain packaging can have an immediate and measureable impact among both youth and adults. 

Australia was among the first countries to introduce graphic health warnings on cigarette packets and restrict tobacco advertising.

The tobacco industry has also recently promoted misleading data in an attempt to discredit plain packaging in Australia. But the new Australian survey shows the tobacco industry’s worst nightmares are coming true: Cutting-edge policies like plain packaging can contribute to significant declines in tobacco use.
Professor Prakit mentioned that tax is the most effective intervention in tobacco control and that tobacco industry opposes this policy the most.
In addition, inadequate funding for tobacco control and lack of multisectoral involvement has made the implementation process of FCTC’s Article 5.3 (Industry interference) guidelines, difficult.

A true tobacco control activist must act where it matters, must take on the challenges from tobacco industry, be persistent and have a positive thinking pattern and believe that justice will prevail.

Professor Prakit’s amiable and intellectual advice was, “Finally, always remember that we work for a good cause and we will win, eventually.”

Last modified on Saturday, 28 February 2015 20:08

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