The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) sets a healthy example for the rest of the region, by declaring its own headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia, officially smoke-free. Ahead of the ceremonies to launch a “Smoke-Free ASEAN Secretariat (ASEC),” regional tobacco-control advocates are congratulating the ASEAN leadership for ‘a determined and progressive stance that unequivocally expresses where the region’s governments should stand with respect to curbing tobacco use.’

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Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) Director Bungon Ritthiphakdee, on behalf of the alliance of tobacco control advocates from around the region said, “The ASEAN secretariat’s leadership by example isn’t merely symbolic. It follows through on a commitment and is concrete in action.”

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The ASEC Health and Communicable Diseases Division with the support of SEATCA and WHO, wants to strengthen the implementation of the ASEAN Secretary-General’s memorandum on Smoke-free Working Environments. ASEAN Secretary-General H.E. Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, personally led the unveiling of the official “Smoke-free” signage at the lobby of the ASEAN headquarters today.

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Dr. Surin had issued a memorandum for a smoke-free ASEAN Secretariat as early as 2009, but the ceremony today is intended to build momentum and formally introduce the ASEAN Secretariat to the international community as a smoke-free building. The memorandum ‘ASEAN Secretariat as a Smoke-free Working Environment’ calls on all staff and visitors to the headquarters to strictly observe and enforce the “no-smoking” policy in all rooms, toilets, lobby, and passageways, for “the health, safety and welfare” of everyone working in the ASEAN Secretariat Building.

Last March 2012, Dr Surin introduced the Smoke-free ASEAN campaign: “10 countries, 1 vision: A Smoke-Free ASEAN,” at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Singapore.  He said, “ASEAN, through the ASEAN Focal Points on Tobacco Control (AFPTC) works by protecting public health policies from being interfered by those who want to campaign to increase the sales of their deadly products. We work with government agencies, we work between governments, institutions, and we also work with civil society.  We create a coalition, we create a network because civil society can do wonders; they have the reach, they have the commitment, they have built up expertise, they can do on the ground at the grassroot level more than just at the policy level.”

In 2009, the AFPTC was developed as a mechanism for the ASEAN cooperation in tobacco control, during the Preparatory Meeting of ASEAN Senior Officials on Health Development for the 9th ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting (PrepSOMHD for 9th AHMM).

“Six hundred million people of Southeast Asia are rejoicing with the accomplishments set forth by the ASEC in bringing good health, clean environments and empowered nations in the hands of the ASEAN,” Ms. Ritthiphakdee added.