Forum says tobacco, H5N1 equally threatening
At the opening of the 2005 Global Forum for Health Leaders on Monday, prominent medical experts from over 14 countries said that tobacco is one of the leading threats to global health and therefore deserves as much attention as avian flu prevention measur
As part of his speech on Monday, Derek Yach, a former executive director of the World Health Organization, said that 5 million people worldwide die from smoking or using tobacco-related products each year; he also pointed out that nearly fifty percent of Taiwanese households have at least one smoker.
He argued that while the government is asking people to travel less as a way to prevent avian flu transmission, it should also be advocating a smoke-free domestic environment for Taiwan's families.
At the forum, the Taiwanese medical profession called upon the government to increase the price of all tobacco products as it believed hitting a consumer's pocket was the only way to achieve the Department of Health's goal of reducing the current amount of smokers by half within the next 10 years. Presently, Taiwan spends US$6 billion on tobacco per annum, and 20,000 people die of smoking-related illnesses annually.
Although Taiwan is not a member of the WHO, the Taiwan Medical Alliance on Tobacco Control issued a proclamation to endorse the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a global initiative to reduce the harmful impact of tobacco on health. The proclamation outlines strategies to decrease the amount of smoking in Taiwan.
C.P. Wen, from the National Health Research Institutes, supported the alliance's strategy of raising tobacco prices and said it has proven very effective in many countries as a deterrent to smoking.
"For example, Singapore was able to successfully reduce the number of male smokers after they raised the price to NT$210 per pack," Wen said.
"Hong Kong produced a similar result when it too increased the price of tobacco," he added.
NHRI research shows in Taiwan, 46 percent of male adults and 4 percent of female adults smoke. Moreover, 8-9 percent of junior high students and 25 percent of high school students light up regularly.
Wen said, "By making cigarettes less affordable, we can curb smoking among teenagers and the poor. It can also prevent non-smokers from ever smoking."
However, the tactic of an immediate price increase on tobacco has received criticism from the Legislature.
Lee Fu-hsing of the Kuomintang said smokers' rights should be respected. A sudden price surge is unfair and unrealistic. In fact, he said, it would encourage cigarette addicts to buy cigarettes illegally from smugglers.
People's First Party legislator George Hsieh said although he supports a price increase, he believes the increase should be done in phases and should not exceed NT$10 each phase.
Another KMT lawmaker, Tsai Chin-lung, said a price increase and harsher punishment for tobacco smugglers must be implemented simultaneously in order to avert illegal operations from profiting from this initiative.
In addition to a price increase, the alliance also presented other tactics to reduce smoking in Taiwan, such as making cessation services free and freely accessible to the public, training more cessation specialists, and legally prohibiting smoking at home when small children and pregnant women are around.
The Global Forum of Health Leaders, a weeklong event held at the Taipei's Grand hotel, is co-sponsored by the National Taiwan University, the Department of Health, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the National Health Research Institutes.
The Forum will focus on four key issues: tobacco control, trade and public health, HIV/AIDS control, and revision of international health regulations.
Speakers include leading health experts such as Ferid Murad, the 1998 Nobel laureate in medicine, Max Essex, the chair of the Harvard University AID Institute, and Kgosi Letlape, president-elect of the World Medical Association.
Source:Taiwan News (2005/11/29 14:50:58)