United Nations to Tackle Global Threat from Tobacco-Caused Disease

April 07, 2011


Tobacco use is a risk factor for all major categories of non-communicable diseases — heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes — and tobacco control must be the 'top priority' if the world is to reduce the toll of diseases that now cause two out of every three deaths worldwide, according to a global alliance of scientists and non-governmental organizations.

Writing in the British medical journal The Lancet, the group said a key to reducing non-communicable diseases — which have overtaken infectious disease as the world's most serious health threat — is reducing tobacco use. Effective implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world's first public health treaty, is a critical and cost-effective way to reduce tobacco use and save lives, the researchers said.

The Lancet's latest research paper on non-communicable diseases comes just five months before the UN-High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases, scheduled for September in New York. The cost of implementing the policies contained in the tobacco-control treaty and taking steps to reduce salt consumption, another of the groups' recommendations, is small, the authors said: It would cost less than 50 cents per person per year in countries like India and China.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, and the tobacco industry is targeting low and middle-income countries with egregious marketing practices and political interference. Implementation of the FCTC would prevent at least 5.5 million deaths over 10 years in 23 countries that account for 80 percent of chronic disease burden in the developing world, The Lancet says.

The 172 countries that have ratified the FCTC are obligated to implement scientifically proven measures to reduce tobacco use. The treaty commits countries to:

  • Ban or restrict tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
  • Place large, graphic health warnings on cigarette packs
  • Restrict smoking in public places
  • Increase tobacco taxes

By establishing full and effective implementation of the treaty as a key outcome of the meeting, the UN can use its agenda-setting influence and resources to reinforce countries' obligations under the treaty — and make the single most effective contribution possible to global public health.