In China, between 2003 and 2008, 3.2 per cent of total healthcare spending went on treating tobacco-related illnesses. The Asian Development Bank last year estimated that without taxation smoking would kill 267 million current and future smokers who are currently alive in China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. Conversely, tobacco control measures used in the region since 1980 have seen the rate of smoking in men halved in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore.
According to the South China Morning Post, Asia is paying a high price for its involvement with tobacco. It has the highest number of tobacco users in the world, and more than half of the world’s tobacco is consumed in Asia, making it “the prime target of transnational tobacco companies”. The World Health Organisation estimates that in Southeast Asia 1.3 million people die every year from tobacco-related disease, whereas in the western Pacific region two people die every minute, “placing a huge burden on health-care systems”. The SCMP observes that one of the obstacles to tobacco control include governments’ focus on other diseases that cause far fewer deaths than tobacco, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and avian influenza.