World No Tobacco Day Sounds Urgent Call for Nations to Fight Tobacco Use, Save Lives

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

May. 29 2008

Washington, D.C. — The World Health Organization's World No Tobacco Day, to be celebrated May 31, is an important reminder of the devastating toll of the global tobacco epidemic and the urgent need for nations to implement proven measures to reduce tobacco use and save lives.

This year's theme — Tobacco-Free Youth: Break the Tobacco Marketing Net — focuses necessary attention on the billions of dollars tobacco companies spend to market their deadly and addictive products around the world, much of it aimed at children. Nations can reduce tobacco use among both children and adults by implementing the scientifically proven measures called for by the international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The treaty has been ratified by 155 nations, but unfortunately not by the United States.

To effectively reduce tobacco use, the WHO recommends that nations implement a package of six cost-effective solutions called MPOWER:

  • Monitor tobacco use and assess the impact of tobacco prevention and cessation efforts;
  • Protect everyone from secondhand smoke with laws that require smoke-free workplaces and public places;
  • Offer help to every tobacco user to quit;
  • Warn and effectively educate every person about the dangers of tobacco use with strong, pictorial health warnings and hard-hitting, sustained media campaigns;
  • Enact and enforce comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorships and on the use of misleading terms such as "light" and "low-tar;"and
  • Raise the price of tobacco products by significantly increasing tobacco taxes.

According to the WHO, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the world today and will kill one billion people worldwide this century unless nations act now to save lives. Tobacco use already kills 5.4 million people a year and the epidemic is worsening, especially in the developing world where more than 80 percent of tobacco-caused deaths will occur in the coming decades. However, this epidemic is entirely preventable if nations urgently implement proven solutions.

Preventing children from ever starting to smoke is an important part of the solution. Most smokers start before the age of 18, and almost a quarter begin using tobacco before the age of 10, according to the WHO. Tobacco companies know their survival depends on addicting young, new customers to replace those who quit or die, and they spend billions of dollars on marketing that appeals to youth. In many countries, especially in the developing world, tobacco marketing is still pervasive, especially in media and venues popular with youth. Tobacco companies advertise on billboards, in fashion, music and sports magazines, on the Internet, and in stores; they sponsor sports and entertainment events; and they sell or give away branded items such as clothing. According to the WHO, a total ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorships can stop the tobacco companies from shifting their vast resources from one marketing tactic to another.

On World No Tobacco Day, nations should commit to quickly and effectively implementing the proven measures to reduce tobacco use recommended by the WHO. If they do so, they can literally save millions of lives.

 

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