May 31 was World No Tobacco Day and WHO says that smoking claims a million lives in the region as a result of cardiovascular disease caused by tobacco use.
WHO says more than one in five cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke, result from smoking. Nearly one in four people in the western Pacific are smokers, which puts them at risk of cardiovascular disease. However, non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke also face an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, resulting in about 168,000 deaths in the region each year.
"While many people are aware that smoking harms our bodies - particularly our lungs - many people still do not know that tobacco can cause a heart attack or stroke, whether they are smokers themselves or exposed to others' smoke," WHO regional director Dr Shin Young-soo said.
Countries which fall in the western Pacific region include American Samoa, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Hong Kong, Japan, Kiribati, Laos, Macao, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Pitcairn Islands, Korea, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Vietnam, and Wallis and Futuna (France).
WHO says all countries in the Western Pacific Region have ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). It obliges parties to the Convention to take steps to reduce the demand for and supply of tobacco products. This includes protecting people from exposure to tobacco smoke, banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, requiring health warnings on tobacco packaging, promoting tobacco cessation and increasing tobacco taxes.
Currently, one in five people in the region or 349 million people are protected by at least one recommended tobacco control measure. The region also has the world's leading examples of strong graphic health warnings on tobacco packaging, including Vanuatu where warnings cover 90% of the packaging and Australia which was the first country in the world to implement plain packaging of tobacco products. Nearly 63 million people in nine countries in the region are protected by comprehensive, 100% smoke-free laws.
Many countries in the western Pacific still lack smoke-free laws covering all public places and workplaces. Even in countries with comprehensive smoke-free laws, enforcement is often poor, with responsibility falling to managers and owners of public places. This leaves millions of people vulnerable to second-hand smoke.
To combat this issue, WHO will soon launch ‘revolution smoke-free', a campaign calling on employers in the region - including those operating in public places such as restaurants, hotels and public transport - to make their workplaces 100% smoke-free. Traditionally, WHO works closely with governments to adopt and enforce smoke-free legislation, but opposition from other sectors often hinders the laws from being passed and fully implemented.