Tobacco industry interference in policy making is a deadly barrier to health and development: WHO

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Tobacco industry continues to hamper government efforts to fully implement life- and cost-saving interventions, according to the new WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, 2017. It suggests that systematic monitoring of tobacco industry interference in government policymaking protects public health by shedding light on tobacco industry tactics. These include exaggerating the economic importance of the tobacco industry, discrediting proven science, and using litigation to intimidate governments.

 

"Governments around the world must waste no time in incorporating all the provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) into their national tobacco control programmes and policies," says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. "They must also clamp down on the illicit tobacco trade, which is exacerbating the global tobacco epidemic and its related health and socioeconomic consequences.” 

The latest report finds that more countries have implemented tobacco control policies, ranging from graphic pack warnings and advertising bans to no smoking areas. About 4.7 billion people – 63% of the world’s population – are covered by at least one comprehensive tobacco control measure, which has quadrupled since 2007 when only 1 billion people and 15% of the world’s population were covered. Strategies to implement such policies have saved millions of people from early death. 

Dr Tedros adds: "Working together, countries can prevent millions of people from dying each year from preventable tobacco-related illness, and save billions of dollars a year in avoidable health care expenditures and productivity losses."

Strategies to support implementation of tobacco demand reduction measures in the WHO FCTC, like the “MPOWER” measures, have saved millions of people from early death, as well as hundreds of billions of dollars in the past decade. MPOWER was established in 2008 to promote government action on six tobacco control strategies in-line with the WHO FCTC to:

Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies.

Protect people from tobacco smoke.

Offer help to quit tobacco use.

Warn people about the dangers of tobacco.

Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

Raise taxes on tobacco.

“One in 10 deaths around the world is caused by tobacco, but we can change that through MPOWER tobacco control measures, which have proven highly effective,” says Michael R. Bloomberg, WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which funded the report. 

Tobacco use is the leading single preventable cause of death worldwide, killing over 7 million people each year. Its economic costs are also enormous, totaling more than US$ 1.4 trillion in health care costs and lost productivity.

Other key findings

The WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, 2017 also finds that: 

43% of the world’s population (3.2 billion people) are covered by two or more MPOWER measures at the highest level, nearly seven times as many people as in 2007.

Eight countries, including five low- and middle-income countries, have implemented four or more MPOWER measures at the highest level (Brazil, Islamic Republic of Iran, Ireland, Madagascar, Malta, Panama, Turkey and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland).

Monitor: Nepal, India and the Philippines are among countries that conducted WHO-backed initiatives to monitor tobacco use and then implemented measures to protect people from tobacco. 

o Nepal introduced the world’s largest health warnings on tobacco packaging surfaces (covering 90% of the package) in May 2015 after using a set of household tobacco survey questions that allowed authorities to detect a high prevalence of adult male smokers and users of smokeless products.

o India launched a nationwide tobacco cessation programme and toll-free quit line in 2016 after conducting a “global adult tobacco survey” in 2009–10 that revealed high interest among almost 1 in 2 smokers and users of smokeless products to quit eventually.

o The Philippines’ landmark Sin Tax Reform Law was passed in 2012 after its 2009 national adult tobacco survey showed high smoking rates among men (47.4%) and boys (12.9%). Such strong tobacco demand reduction measures have contributed to declining tobacco use, according to its 2015 adult tobacco survey results.

Protect: Comprehensive smoke-free legislation is currently in place for almost 1.5 billion people in 55 countries. Since 2007, dramatic progress has been witnessed in low- and middle-income countries, 35 of which have adopted a complete smoke-free law since 2007.

Offer: Appropriate cessation treatment is in place for 2.4 billion people in 26 countries.

Warn: More people are protected by strong graphic pack warnings than by any other MPOWER measure, covering almost 3.5 billion people in 78 countries – almost half the global population (47%).

Warn: 3.2 billion people live in a country that aired at least one comprehensive national anti-tobacco mass media campaign in the last 2 years.

Enforce: Bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship interfere with the tobacco industry’s ability to promote and sell its products, and reduce tobacco use. But only 15% of the world’s population is currently covered by a comprehensive ban.

Raise: Raising taxes to increase tobacco product prices is the most effective and cost-efficient means of reducing tobacco use and encouraging users to quit. But it is one of the least used tobacco control measures.

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