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WHO Report Finds Measurable Progress in Global Fight against Tobacco, But Countries Must Step Up Efforts

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
July 07, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC — A new report released today by the World Health Organization (WHO) finds that countries are making significant, measurable progress in implementing large, graphic health warnings on tobacco packages and other proven measures to reduce tobacco use, the world's leading cause of preventable death.

But the report also contains the troubling news that too many countries still are not doing enough and must step up their efforts in order to reverse the tide of a tobacco epidemic that will otherwise kill one billion people worldwide this century. There is no time to waste because the tobacco industry is aggressively targeting low- and middle-income countries with its deadly products and has intensified its opposition to tobacco control measures around the world.

The WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2011, is the third report the WHO has issued assessing countries' progress against the global tobacco epidemic. The new report focuses on implementation of large, graphic warnings on tobacco packages and national anti-tobacco mass media campaigns – tools that effectively warn people about the dangers of tobacco use.

The report finds that more than one billion people in 19 countries are now protected by laws requiring graphic health warnings that cover 50 percent or more of tobacco packages, up from 547 million people in 16 countries in 2008. The United States, Mexico and Peru are the latest countries to require large, graphic warnings. (Counting countries with warnings that cover less than half the pack, a total of 42 countries require graphic warnings.)
Large, graphic health warning labels on tobacco packages are an essential component of a national strategy to reduce tobacco use. Research from around the world has shown that large, graphic warnings are most effective at informing consumers about the health risks of tobacco use, motivating smokers to quit and discouraging nonsmokers, including children, from starting.
Other findings in the WHO report include:

  • Since 2008, 16 more countries have enacted national smoke-free laws covering all public places and workplaces. As a result, a total of 739 million people in 31 countries are now protected by comprehensive smoke-free laws. In addition, 210 million people are protected by smoke-free laws at the state or local level, a gain of 100 million since 2008.

  • In the past two years, 23 countries with a population of nearly two billion people have aired strong mass media campaigns about the harmful effects of tobacco use.

  • Twenty-six countries and one territory now have tobacco taxes that constitute the recommended minimum of 75 percent of retail price.

According to the WHO, tobacco will kill nearly six million people worldwide this year. Without urgent action, tobacco will kill 8 million people a year by 2030, 80 percent of them in developing countries. Yet there are scientifically proven strategies to reduce tobacco's deadly impact, and 174 nations have committed themselves to implementing them by ratifying the world's first public health treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). To help countries fulfill the promise of the FCTC, WHO has established MPOWER, a package of cost-effective solutions that have been proven to reduce tobacco use.

The WHO has identified the FCTC tobacco control policies as 'best buys' in global health — proven, low-cost solutions that can work anywhere to save lives, improve health and reduce health care costs. Nations should act now to implement them.