World No Tobacco Day Highlights Health and Economic Benefits of Reducing Tobacco Use

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
May 31, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today countries around the globe will mark World No Tobacco Day, held annually by the World Health Organization (WHO) to encourage strong action to reduce tobacco use – the world's leading cause of preventable death. This year, World No Tobacco Day is focusing attention not only on tobacco's devastating toll in lives and health, but also how tobacco use threatens economic development and countries' ability to achieve sustainable development goals.

The many health and economic benefits of reducing tobacco use should spur countries to act now to fully implement the proven strategies called for by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) including large pictorial health warnings, advertising bans, higher tobacco taxes and 100 percent smoke-free laws. In particular, significant increases in tobacco taxes are not only highly effective at reducing tobacco use, but also raise revenues that can be used for economic development activities.

Around the world, tobacco use places an enormous burden on national economies caused by increase health-care costs and decreased productivity. Tobacco use only deepens poverty as poor and vulnerable populations spend less on essentials such as food, education and health care. With nearly 80 percent of the world’s smokers living in low-and middle- income countries, these nations face increased challenges to achieving their development goals. Reducing tobacco use, especially among the world’s poorest populations, will improve individual health, increase household spending on food and education, and improve economic productivity.

Globally, tobacco companies remain the greatest obstacle to ending the tobacco epidemic once and for all. From threatening governments to suing countries, the tobacco industry leaves no stone unturned in efforts to delay, stop and weaken the proven policies called for by the FCTC.

But countries are fighting back. Earlier this month it was reported that Australia had defeated Philip Morris International in an international lawsuit aimed at dismantling the country’s plain packaging law. In 2016, international courts ruled in favor of Uruguay’s public health measures in a case brought by Philip Morris and other international tobacco companies. The tobacco industry has suffered similar legal defeats in the United Kingdom and European Union, proving that despite the deep-pockets of tobacco companies, evidence-based measures to alleviate the harms of tobacco use are holding up in courts around the world.

On this year’s World No Tobacco Day, countries are reminded that now is the time to take action to reduce the devastating burden of tobacco use. With strong implementation of the policies called for by the FCTC, countries can take a giant step to attain development goals and save lives. Without urgent and sustained action by more nations, tobacco use will kill one billion people this century.