Government officials and mayors from the Asia Pacific region who met in Singapore for a two-day tobacco control summit have formed an alliance dedicated to curbing the tobacco epidemic. Representatives from Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Myanmar, Malaysia, Timor Leste, Laos and Cambodia met 29–30 November to discuss how best to overcome the considerable challenges to tobacco control in the region – which has some of the highest smoking rates in the world.
Organised by The Union Asia Pacific office in partnership with Indonesia’s Ministry of Health, the goal was to build stronger political commitment, identify new partnership opportunities, and sustainable, high impact use of resources.
The attendees, from 15 major cities, formed the new Asia Pacific Cities Alliance for Tobacco Control during the event, a practical and public commitment to introducing and enforcing evidence-based measures to reduce tobacco use within their jurisdictions.
‘Mayors and regional leaders can have a direct and positive impact on the lives of millions through good city-level governance. Tobacco control policies introduced and well-enforced at this level can become a powerful force for national change,’ said Prabodh Bhambal, Regional Director for The Union Asia Pacific. ‘Subnational leaders can play a central role in reducing rates of non-communicable disease by ensuring public services are managed with protection of public health as a priority.'
Subnational leaders play a key role in managing the day-to-day environments and infrastructures that affect those living in urban areas. Smoke-free policies and bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship are within a mayor’s jurisdiction. Comprehensive and well-enforced measures help smokers to quit, and vitally, prevent young people from taking up the habit. At present, tobacco companies are successfully recruiting new generations of smokers throughout the Asia Pacific region, with highly targeted marketing campaigns.
‘Tobacco control policies in many Asia Pacific countries are often weak and poorly enforced. This gives the tobacco industry ample room to manoeuvre and delay or undermine policies that are imperative for protecting public health,’ said Dr Ehsan Latif, Director of The Union’s Department of Tobacco Control. ‘This Alliance has the potential to be the foundation for a new regional political commitment that prioritises the health of people above the demands of multinational corporations. We urge members to work together to drive tobacco control forward across Asia Pacific.'
The summit’s host country, Singapore, offered a solid example of how effective and well-enforced tobacco control laws can impact public health nationwide. Attendees reflected on this, identified creative and collaborative solutions to common challenges, and agreed strategies for the next year. The Alliance committed to meet annually to assess progress and launch new initiatives. It is co-chaired by the Mayor of Bogor City, Indonesia, Dr Bima Arya Sugiarto, and the Mayor of Balanga City, Philippines, Francis Anthony S. Garcia.
‘The better we can work together, the more support we can build for a bold and ambitious tobacco control agenda,’ said Dr Lily Sulistyowati, Director of Non-Communicable Disease Control, Ministry of Health, Indonesia. ’Tobacco use is a leading public health problem globally. The World Health Organization estimates that around six million people die from tobacco-related disease each year. Most of these deaths occur in developing countries.’
‘The participants’ commitment to the new Asia Pacific Cities Alliance for Tobacco Control signifies increased momentum for reducing tobacco use across the region,’ said Dr Tara Singh Bam, Deputy Director of The Union’s Asia Pacific office. ‘Tobacco industry interference is acute in many countries here, and this must be rooted out if investment in tobacco control is to be secured. Strong political leadership at the sub-national level can turn the tide. We are stronger together.’
The Asia Pacific Cities Alliance for Tobacco Control is modelled on a similar endeavour established in Indonesia is 2012. The Indonesian Mayors’ Alliance membership has grown from 12 to over 100 in 2016.