New Delhi, Jun 25: The World Health Organization on Tuesday called on member countries in the Southeast Asia Region to take effective steps to track, trace and eliminate illicit trade of tobacco products and control unrecorded alcohol.

It cautioned that all forms of tobacco and alcohol, legal or illegal, are harmful to health.

"Effective control of illicit tobacco trade and unrecorded alcohol is a challenging and daunting task but now is the time to prudently make our decisions and choose the best way forward," World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director Saima Wazed urged in her opening remarks at a regional workshop in New Delhi to address the challenges of illicit tobacco trade and unrecorded alcohol.

"As a first step, all our remaining member states should become parties to the WHO FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products," she said.

India and Sri Lanka from the WHO's Southeast Asia Region are parties to the WHO FCTC protocol so far.

Wazed also called on member countries to devote optimal resources to develop, implement and sustain effective track-and-trace mechanisms for tobacco products.

Progress in combating illicit trade has been slow in the region, with appropriate policies and tools either not in place or not optimally implemented, she said.

Experience from many countries shows illicit trade can be successfully addressed, even when tobacco taxes and prices are raised. This results in increased tax revenues while simultaneously reducing tobacco use, Wazed said.

"It is essential to compile existing and generate new regional evidence to enable policymakers to make better-informed and more effective policy decisions to monitor and combat illicit tobacco trade and unrecorded alcohol," she added.

An estimated 25 per cent of global alcohol consumption is unrecorded. This is usually of a lower price and appeals to consumers from low socioeconomic status and people with underlying alcohol use disorders. It is often irregularly labelled and frequently contains unknown ethanol percentages and potentially toxic compounds. It is a complex interplay of these factors that make unrecorded alcohol potentially more harmful than regulated alcohol, the regional director said.

Unrecorded alcohol consumption is associated with disproportionate harm that goes beyond toxicity. Online sale of unrecorded alcohol, which circumvents alcohol availability regulations, is an emerging challenge, she said.

Wazed added tobacco use is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, more than 20 different types of cancer, and many other debilitating health conditions. Excessive alcohol consumption has several negative health consequences. It is a risk factor for mental disorders, communicable and noncommunicable diseases, premature mortality, injury, and domestic violence. In addition to the valuable lives lost, both tobacco and alcohol have substantial economic and societal costs.

The workshop is exploring integrating "quitlines" for tobacco, alcohol and substance use, besides global best practices to monitor and combat illicit tobacco trade and unrecorded alcohol consumption. PTI