MANILA – The 10 ASEAN countries are home to 10 percent of the world’s 1.25 billion adult smokers with 17.3 million of them from the Philippines, a report of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) showed.

Based on the 2013 ASEAN Tobacco Control Atlas, 30 percent of the adults in the region are “current smokers,” accounting for 10 percent of the world’s adult smokers.

“Despite adopting various tobacco control policies and laws, many countries still face numerous challenges in decreasing tobacco consumption to minimize the health and economic burden from tobacco use,” said SEATCA Director Bungon Ritthiphakdee.

She said tobacco companies, in particular, “are continually expanding their business in ASEAN countries, planning to sell more cigarettes, targeting more boys and girls for addiction and interfering in all levels of tobacco control policy development and implementation.”

The 64-page report showed that male smoking prevalence is highest in Indonesia at 67.4 percent and lowest in Singapore at 23.7 percent.

The female smoking rate is particularly high in Myanmar, the Philippines, and Laos at more than five percent.

“Tobacco consumption is increasing worldwide (1.3 billion smokers) and has grown substantially in low- and middle-income nations (82 percent of world’s smokers), including in the ASEAN region,” the report showed.

Describing cigarette as a “highly addictive product,” the report said it is “commonly used by all segments of the population including the vulnerable groups such as women, youth, and children.”

Single most preventable cause of disease, disability, premature deaths

“Tobacco use remains the single biggest preventable cause of disease, disability, and premature deaths in the world,” it stated.

According to SEATCA, there was no significant decline in cigarette consumption in the region from 1990 to 2010, except for Singapore, and “to a lesser extend Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia.”

“Countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam have per capita consumption rates that are higher than the regional average. From a public health perspective, there is a distressing trend of increasing consumption in Indonesia, Myanmar, and most alarming Vietnam,” SEATCA said.

The agency claimed that Indonesia had some 65 million adult smokers; followed by the Philippines with 17.3 million; Vietnam with 15.3 million; Thailand with 13 million; Myanmar with 8.86 million; Malaysia with 4.37 million; Laos with 1.41 million; Cambodia with 1.47 million; Brunei with 71,000; and Singapore with 37,000.

“Health care costs are very high particularly in Indonesia ($13.9 billion). The negative impact of the tobacco-related health care costs is expected to worsen without effective tobacco control measures,” SEATCA said. –Jet Villa,