Health educators and activists around the world Thursday hailed a Malaysian government decision to ban tobacco advertising from next year as part of efforts to control smoking in the Southeast Asian nation, saying that the measure would have an impact on policies in other developing nations across the region.
The announcement this week of Malaysia's tobacco advertising ban would encourage similar action among other nations in Asia where up to 50,000 teenagers take up smoking daily, according to Health Related Information Dissemination Amongst Youth, which educates young people on the health risks of tobacco consumption.
"Governments in developing countries, including India, are likely to follow in the footsteps of Malaysia in banning tobacco advertising and sponsorship," said Monika Arora, program manager of the New Delhi-based group. "The step should encourage the passage of a bill through the Indian parliament, during its winter session, that aims to control the use of tobacco with measures such as sponsorship bans," she said.
Malaysian health minister Chua Jui Meng said Tuesday that the ban would take effect from January 1, 2003, covering all forms of advertising and sponsorship, with the exception, initially, of soccer events and Formula One motor racing. Tobacco companies--including British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco Industry, and Philip Morris--spent an estimated $12.4 million on promoting their products in Malaysia between January and May this year.
The Malaysian government move comes after a sustained global campaign by the World Health Organization ( news - web sites) for gradual elimination of tobacco advertising and sponsorship according to the terms of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which will be ready for adoption next year. The draft treaty, released last month, proposes a global ban on all forms of tobacco promotion.
"Tobacco gets mileage when it is associated with sports which are actively understood by the public as something positive and sports-people as those who have to be emulated," said Harsharan Kaur Pandey, WHO's information officer in New Delhi.
Arora said that tobacco sponsorship and advertisements particularly influenced young people in developing countries, where increasing numbers were starting to smoke. Half of all Filipinos aged between seven and 17 years, for example, had taken up the habit, an increase of 150 percent on the number of smokers in that age-group in 1987.
A recent survey by Health Related Information Dissemination Amongst Youth found that over 86 percent of Delhi students had seen cigarette advertisements posted on billboards and nearly 70 percent had seen similar promotional material in newspapers and magazines over a 30-day period.
"Young students are lured into smoking by advertisements and sponsorships," Arora said, adding that the survey had found that five percent of Delhi students aged 13-15 were smokers.
WHO estimates that one in four teenaged smokers would die prematurely of tobacco-related health problems, such as heart disease and lung and mouth cancer. About 4.2 million people around the world die annually from such illnesses.
Smoking-related deaths are expected to rise over the next few decades, according to projections by the Cancer Foundation of Western Australia. While about 150 million people are expected to die from diseases associated with tobacco use between 2000 to 2025, the number of fatalities would double to some 300 million between 2025 and 2050.
"And since most of these deaths would be in the developing nations, any kind of ban on tobacco advertising or sponsorship would certainly help prevent the spread of tobacco," said Terry Slevin, director of education and research at the Foundation. "The Malaysian step should prompt other countries to work out strategies to control the use of tobacco."