ASEAN eyes funding for regional tobacco control

Thailand and eight ASEAN members, namely the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Singapore, are eyeing sustainable funding for tobacco control in the region, while the Thai Health Foundation Promotion (ThaiHealth) is seen as a role model for its work in campaigning for disease prevention and tobacco control.

Deputy Public Health Minister Somsak Chunharas, who presided over the opening yesterday for the ASEAN Regional Workshop on Sustainable Funding for Tobacco Control, said ThaiHealth was a blessing for the country. The foundation gets funding of Bt3 billion or so a year from taxes on alcohol and cigarettes.

Somsak added that ThaiHealth, which stemmed from close cooperation between civil and business sectors, used its funds effectively to raise awareness and promote good health.

When the ASEAN Economic Community takes effect at the end of next year, member countries will need to control tobacco consumption through measures such as higher tax and the establishment of health promotion agencies, Somsak pointed out. Laos, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam have already established health promotion funds along with other measures, he added.

He noted that up to 6 million people die from smoking-related illnesses across the world every year, and that by 2030 this figure would reach 8 million if nothing was done to curb smoking.

He said countries like Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia ended up shouldering medical expenses that were 1.2 to 13.7 times more than tax revenue from tobacco products.

Bungon Rittipakdee from the Southeast Asian Tobacco Control Alliance said ThaiHealth was funded by 2 per cent of excise tax, which allowed sustainable funds for health promotion, and could serve as a model for other ASEAN states. She said additional taxes on tobacco and alcoholic drinks to fund the agency was the best - as per the principle that "the polluter must pay". This benefited all sides in terms of health and funding without disturbing the government funds earmarked for administration and development.