Opening Remarks by Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific at the Presentation of Project Results on Child and Adolescent Health and Tobacco Control in the Western Pacific

Manila, Philippines
8 February 2012

Good morning.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the world today and a major factor in the burden of noncommunicable diseases. An estimated six million people a year die from tobacco-related disease worldwide. In our Region — which is home to one third of the world's smokers — one person dies every two minutes from a tobacco-related disease.

Though most smokers are men, the dangers also affect women and children, half of whom are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke at home and in the public places. Effective tobacco control requires strong leadership from the health sector and active engagement from other sectors.

This is not always easy to achieve. Despite the challenges, the countries of the Western Pacific continue to make progress on tobacco control.

Ours is the only Region where 100 per cent of eligible parties have ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. As countries develop a greater understanding of what is at stake, more of the steps spelled out in the WHO framework to control tobacco use have been put into effect.

In the Western Pacific Region, we are proud of the work of Australia, Hong Kong (China), New Zealand and Singapore.

They have joined the growing list of countries recognized as global leaders in tobacco control. They raised cigarette prices, banned indoor smoking, banned advertising promotion and sponsorship and instituted graphic health warnings. For example, smoking is now prohibited on beaches, parks and escalators in Hong Kong (China).

And Australia has become the first country in the world to mandate plain packaging for tobacco products.

Plain packaging is a major victory for global public health because it strips tobacco companies of the ability to use packaging as an effective marketing tool.

Studies have shown that plain packaging decreases the appeal of tobacco products and increases the impact of graphic health warnings. Another resource in the fight against tobacco use has been effective advocacy.

The Bloomberg Initiative offers grants for tobacco control projects. The programme has enabled the fight against tobacco to be waged with advocacy campaigns in countries where passing legislation has been challenging, such as China, the Philippines and Viet Nam.

In the end, effective tobacco control requires strong legislation and policies, enforcement and changing of social norms.

Take the case of children and adolescents: child health care providers such as paediatricians, family physicians, nurses, midwives and primary health care workers need to be the voice for children in the tobacco control debate.

Child health care providers can advocate stronger legislation and policies, as well as enforcement of laws based on sound scientific evidence that smoking and second-hand smoke are harmful. Authority figures can also change social norms and behaviour through their practice, including preventive services, counselling, referrals and advocacy in the community.

Last year, WHO convened a meeting on a training network for child and adolescent health and tobacco control.

Participants recommended highlighting the protection of children and adolescents against second-hand smoke and the marketing efforts of tobacco companies.

Since that meeting, projects have been implemented in China, Japan, the Philippines and Viet Nam.

These projects provide us with models that we can continue to learn from as we continue to engage with child health care providers in all countries. At this meeting we hope to hear about your progress and insights on lessons learnt, as well as to strengthen the network of partners committed to improving the health of all children in the Western Pacific Region.

Welcome to the Regional Office. I wish you a pleasant and productive stay in Manila, and look forward to hearing of the results of this meeting.

Thank you.