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Tobacco Facing Challenges In South East Asia
Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-02-27/tobacco-facing-challenges-in-south-east-asia/4542142?section=australianetworknews
Source Date: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government, ICT for MDGs, Internet Governance
Created: Feb 27, 2013

International tobacco firms are increasingly being forced to look for new markets in South-East Asia, where regulations are weak and smoking rates are steadily climbing.

Stricter regulation and the success of anti-smoking campaigns in rich countries have hit tobacco firms hard.

Last year Australia introduced the world's first tobacco plain packaging laws - and New Zealand now looks set to follow Canberra's lead.

A decline in smoking rates in many parts of the developed world is also forcing tobacco companies to look to new horizons.

Less than 20 per cent of people in Australia are smokers, while in Indonesia and China the rates are up to around 60 to 70 per cent.

Shocking stories of Indonesian children as young as two, already addicted to cigarettes, have made headlines around the globe.

Dr Ulysses Dorotheo is the director of the South East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, established to support ASEAN countries to develop and implement effective tobacco control policies.

He says tobacco companies have directly targeted developing nations.

"We have seen that tobacco companies have moved to Asia and Africa, primarily in Asia, where there's a really rapid growth in economies they're trying to capture that market," Dr Ulysses says.

"Even the tobacco industry documents have pointed to China in particular and Asia, in general, as where they're going to make their next big score."

Easy target
The lack of regulation in many Asian countries has made the move even easier for international tobacco firms.

In Indonesia, for example, where there's been effectively zero regulation until this year, the Marlboro man still rides with his head held high.

Blatant cigarette advertising on giant billboards can be found throughout its cities.

And advertising at sporting and other events - that was banned many years ago in most developed countries - flourishes in Indonesia.

But as awareness grows, many Asian governments are now finding enough support to wage a decent fight against the tobacco industry.

Price rise
In January the Philippine Government introduced a new excise tax on cigarettes - a "sin tax" - that will finally push up the price of cigarettes, hopefully out of reach of children.

The money raised from the tax is to be used to help cover the estimated $4.5 billion that smoking-related diseases cost the country each year.

SEATCA's Dr Dorotheo has spent more than a decade trying to reduce smoking rates through lobbying for higher tobacco taxes and prices in the Philippines and throughout the rest of Asia.

He hopes the price rise will have a big impact.

"The increase is within the range of 50 per cent to 300 per cent, depending on the price category," Dr Dorotheo said.

"So it's a huge jump and we hope we'll see more and more people give up smoking because of this.

"We hope the prices will continue to go up and become less affordable, especially for the younger smokers and the poor smokers who can't afford to pay for their health care and their disability if they contract a tobacco-caused disease."

'First step'
Indonesia also recently introduced new regulations, such as the Health Law which was signed into legislation in 2009.

According to Dr Dorotheo, it's the first step in the right direction from the Indonesian Government.

"The big success, I think, is with regards to pictorial health warnings," he said.

"There will be 40 per cent of the front and back of the packages that will have pictorial health warnings, so they will be one of the few out of the ten ASEAN countries to actually have pictorial warnings."

But he says the restrictions on tobacco advertising and the bans on smoking in public places are still weak.

Many in Indonesia argue the laws still favour big tobacco while the country's children continue to be put at risk.

Uphill battle
Emer Rojas in the Philippines knows the risks of smoking all too well.

He was a chain smoker, who contracted cancer of the larynx that caused him to lose the ability to speak.

Emer now devotes his time to campaigning against smoking, and lobbying for tougher tobacco laws.

But getting even the sin tax reforms through has been a long uphill battle.

The Philippines Undersecretary of Health, Teodoro Herbosa, admits the law is not as tough as the government would have liked.

"The children and the poor were the main targets of raising the excise taxes on tobacco and if you ask me personally, I still feel think the bill was watered down," he said.

"And this was watered down by supporters in legislation by the lobby group in the tobacco industry.

"Picture labels were supposed to be implemented in this country but they sued the Department of Health in three or four local governments and they actually won up to the level of the court of appeals.

"So we're still fighting this battle against this big lobby industry."
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