Social, economic and legal dimensions of tobacco and its control in South-East Asia region

Indian J Public Health. 2011 Jul-Sep;55(3):161-8. doi: 10.4103/0019-557X.89944.


This paper examines the social, cultural, economic and legal dimensions of tobacco control in the South-East Asia Region in a holistic view through the review of findings from various studies on prevalence, tobacco economics, poverty alleviation, women and tobacco and tobacco control laws and regulations. Methods were Literature review of peer reviewed publications, country reports, WHO publications, and reports of national and international meetings on tobacco and findings from national level surveys and studies. Tobacco use has been a social and cultural part of the people of South-East Asia Region. Survey findings show that 30% to 60% of men and 1.8% to 15.6% of women in the Region use one or the other forms of tobacco products. The complex nature of tobacco use with both smoking and smokeless forms is a major challenge for implementing tobacco control measures. Prevalence of tobacco use is high among the poor and the illiterate. It is higher among males than females but studies show a rising trend among girls and women due to intensive marketing of tobacco products by the tobacco industry. Tobacco users spend a huge percent of their income on tobacco which deprives them and their families of proper nutrition, good education and health care. Some studies of the Region show that cost of treatment of diseases attributable to tobacco use was more than double the revenue that governments received from tobacco taxation. Another challenge the Region faces is the application of uniform tax to all forms of tobacco, which will reduce not only the availability of tobacco products in the market but also control people switching over to cheaper tobacco products. Ten out of eleven countries are Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and nine countries have tobacco control legislation. Enforcement of control measures is weak, particularly in areas such as smoke-free environments, advertisement at the point of sale and sale of tobacco to minors. Socio-cultural acceptance of tobacco use is still a major challenge in tobacco control efforts for the governments and stakeholders in the South-East Asia Region. The myth that chewing tobacco is less harmful than smoking tobacco needs to be addressed with public awareness campaigns. Advocacy on the integration of tobacco control with poverty alleviation campaigns and development programs is urgently required. Law enforcement is a critical area to be strengthened and supported by WHO and the civil society organizations working in the area of tobacco control.

MeSH terms

  • Asia, Southeastern / epidemiology
  • Cultural Characteristics*
  • Female
  • Government Regulation*
  • Health Education
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking / economics*
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Smoking / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Taxes
  • Tobacco, Smokeless / economics