Tobacco Control Strategies Are “Best Buys” for Improving Global Health

April 28, 2011


Effective tobacco control policies are among the top 10 'best buys' that governments can implement to combat the growing threat from non-communicable diseases such as cancer, heart disease, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes, the World Health Organization says in its first worldwide report on such diseases.

Tobacco use is a risk factor for all of these illnesses — diseases that have now surpassed infectious disease as the leading cause of death worldwide and threaten 'impending disaster' in some countries, according to WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan. The WHO released new figures showing that nearly 6 million people die from tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke each year. By 2020, that is expected to increase to 7.5 million — accounting for 10 percent of deaths across the globe.

Chan singled out the tobacco industry for blame and urged health ministers gathered in Moscow to fight back. The Moscow meeting is a precursor to a special meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on combating non-communicable diseases to be held in New York in September.

'Today, many of the threats to health that contribute to non-communicable diseases come from corporations that are big, rich and powerful, driven by commercial interests and far less friendly to health,' Chan said. 'Forget collaboration with the tobacco industry. Never trust this industry on any count, in any deal.'

She urged nations to implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the first global public health treaty, which requires countries to implement scientifically proven policies to reduce tobacco use. Chan said implementation of the treaty can prevent 5.5 million deaths each year, and in low-income countries cost less than 40 cents per person: 'There is no other ‘best buy’ for the money on offer.'

In its report on non-communicable diseases, the WHO listed ten policies that are 'Best Buys' that it said should be 'undertaken immediately' to save lives, prevent disease and reduce health care costs.

Four are proven tobacco control policies:

  • Protecting people from secondhand smoke and banning smoking in public places
  • Warning about the dangers of tobacco use
  • Enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
  • Raising taxes on tobacco

'Rest assured, in this day and age, ever more sophisticated and costly medicines, devices and technologies will not be able to save the situation. They will not be able to avert an impending disaster,' Chan warned. 'Only smart, farsighted policies can do this.'

Yolonda Richardson, Vice President of International Programs at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, is a member of the U.S. delegation at the WHO's First Global Ministerial Conference on Healthy Lifestyles and Non-Communicable Disease Control.