Landmark WHO Report on Global Tobacco Epidemic Should Spur Urgent Action by Nations to Implement Proven Solutions

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

Feb. 7 2008

Washington, D.C. — The World Health Organization (WHO) today released a landmark report that makes clear both the devastating scope of the global tobacco epidemic – it is the leading cause of preventable death in the world today – and the fact that it is entirely preventable if nations urgently implement proven solutions.

This report presents the first comprehensive picture of what the world’s nations are doing to address this public health crisis, and it demonstrates starkly that most nations are not doing nearly enough. While some countries have shown exemplary leadership, overall only around five percent of the world’s population is covered by any one of the key interventions recommended by the WHO.

The world is truly at a crossroads in this battle. With Philip Morris International and other multinational tobacco companies aggressively introducing new products and increasingly targeting the developing world, it is urgent that nations act now to implement the proven solutions identified in this report. If they do so, they can save hundreds of millions of lives. If nations fail to act, the world will pay a terrible price.

The WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2008, finds that 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. Unless urgent action is taken, one billion people will die worldwide from tobacco use this century. Tobacco use is so devastating to the human body that it is a risk factor for six of the eight leading causes of death in the world.

The good news is that this epidemic is far from inevitable, and we know how to stop it. Based on science and experience, the WHO has identified six cost-effective solutions that have been proven to reduce tobacco use and that every nation should implement.

Called the MPOWER package by the WHO, these solutions require nations to:

  • 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 to educate the public; and
  • 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 increasing tobacco taxes.

More than 150 nations have committed to implementing these measures by ratifying the WHO tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The scientific evidence is beyond dispute that these solutions work. Equally important, they are affordable and achievable. Most can be implemented at little or no cost to governments.

When costs are involved, higher tobacco taxes can provide the necessary revenue – not only for tobacco control, but for other public health and social programs as well. In fact, these measures will save government huge sums by reducing health care expenditures related to tobacco.

The global tobacco epidemic does not just affect the health of millions of people – it is also an economic threat that costs nations hundreds of billions of dollars in health care expenditures and other economic losses each year. Tobacco use disproportionately hurts the poor and deepens poverty by siphoning money needed for basic necessities such as food, shelter and education and killing wage earners in the prime of their lives.

While there is much work to be done, support for global tobacco control policies is gaining momentum. In South Africa, tobacco taxes were increased by 250 percent in the 1990s – with cigarette consumption falling by five to seven percent for every 10 percent increase, with the most significant decline among the young and the poor.

Just this year, a growing number of countries have implemented strong smoke-free laws, including France, Turkey and Thailand. And several countries, including Brazil, Thailand, Belgium, Australia and Canada have increased public awareness of the dangers of smoking by enhancing pictorial warnings on the packaging of tobacco products to increase smokers’ awareness of their risk.

The impact in Brazil was significant – after new picture warnings were introduced, 67 percent of smokers said the new warnings encouraged them to quit, an impact that was particularly strong among less educated, lower income people.

In addition, next week representatives from more than 150 countries will meet to begin negotiations on an historic international treaty to combat the illicit trade in tobacco products to supplement the FCTC.

The time to act is now. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids urges nations to implement these proven solutions and save millions of lives.

 

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