May. 30 2007
Washington, DC — World No Tobacco Day - celebrated on May 31 by the World Health Organization - comes at a time when the movement to protect people from secondhand smoke may have reached the most crucial tipping point in history. Beginning with Ireland in 2004, some 30 countries have adopted strong smoke-free laws, but even greater change is on the horizon.
Within the last thirty days the World Health Organization has issued a set of Proposed Guidelines recommending that all 147 countries that have ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) adopt new policies prohibiting smoking in all indoor workplaces, public places, bars and restaurants. If adopted by the formal Conference of the ratifying countries in July, this action will play a critical role in reducing global mortality and illness rates. Some 200,000 workers are estimated to die each year due to exposure to tobacco smoke in the workplace. Approximately 700 million children are exposed to secondhand smoke.
Each day, news from around the world demonstrates the rapidly increasing pace at which support for smoke-free laws is sweeping the globe. Within the last week the Ministry of Health in China, home to 350 million smokers, released a groundbreaking report on tobacco control which concludes that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. The Chinese people agree: It was reported that public support for totally smoke-free public places is surprisingly high. And Russian President Vladimir Putin, long silent on the tobacco issue, this week has issued a statement calling for legislation and prevention work to reduce tobacco's devastating toll in Russia.
In Ireland, bartenders and wait staff no longer must breathe toxic tobacco smoke in order to earn their wages. In Uruguay, children can now enjoy outings to the mall without having to inhale the 70 or so carcinogenic substances found in secondhand smoke from their fellow shoppers. The laws making this progress possible are part of a growing movement to protect people from secondhand smoke that is being celebrated May 31 on World No Tobacco Day.
The list of countries which have chosen to protect their citizens from secondhand smoke is growing, with countries like Uruguay, New Zealand, and Iran joining the movement. In July, England's 60 million residents will be able to enjoy a trip to their local pub without breathing thick clouds of secondhand smoke. And over 50% of the population of the United States enjoys clean indoor air, thanks to state and local legislation.
In a recent article published in The Lancet, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his public health Director Thomas Frieden said that "reducing the ranks of the world's smokers by a fifth before 2020 could save 100 million lives." Effective implementation of strong smoke-free laws is an important piece of the puzzle in reducing tobacco use, saving lives, reducing the burden on public health systems, and even improving the bottom line for local businesses. The WHO-recommended Guidelines to be debated within the next 45 days at the upcoming international Conference could catalyze the implementation of smoke-free air laws in more than 130 additional countries if they are adopted without change.
Hundreds of civil society organizations and other tobacco control advocates have joined an effort to urge governments to adopt the smoke-free Guidelines as part of the Global Voices Campaign. There is no better way for a government to make a positive impact on its citizens' health than by reversing the dramatic toll of the tobacco epidemic.
How to prevent 100 million deaths from tobacco, The Lancet. May 19, 2007. Michael Bloomberg and Thomas Frieden.