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Dramatic increase in life-saving tobacco control policies in last decade: WHO report

4.7 billion people – 63% of world’s population – are covered by policies such as strong graphic warnings, smoke-free public places or other measures, says the WHO report

health Updated: Jul 20, 2017 10:42 IST
Tobacco use is the leading single preventable cause of death worldwide, killing over 7 million people each year.(Shutterstock)

A majority of countries have successfully implemented tobacco control policies, ranging from graphic pack warnings and advertising bans to no smoking areas, says the latest World Health Organization (WHO) report on the global tobacco epidemic.

About 4.7 billion people – 63% of the world’s population - are covered by at least one comprehensive tobacco control measure, which has quadrupled since 2007 when only 1 billion people and 15% of the world’s population, were covered, says the report that was published on Wednesday.

Strategies to implement such policies have saved millions of people from an early death, as tobacco use is the leading single preventable cause of death worldwide, killing over 7 million people each year.

Its economic costs are also enormous, totalling more than US$1.4 trillion in healthcare costs and lost productivity.

However, the tobacco industry continues to hamper government efforts to fully implement life- and cost-saving interventions, according to the report.

“Governments around the world must waste no time in incorporating all the provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) into their national tobacco control programmes and policies,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“They must also clamp down on the illicit tobacco trade, which is exacerbating the global tobacco epidemic and its related health and socio-economic consequences.”

Dr Tedros says, “Working together, countries can prevent millions of people from dying each year from preventable tobacco-related illness, and save billions of dollars a year in avoidable health-care expenditures and productivity losses.”

The progress has been made possible because governments have intensified action to implement key measures of the convention.

Nepal, India and the Philippines are among countries that implemented WHO-backed initiatives to monitor tobacco use and then implemented measures to protect people from tobacco use.

India launched a nationwide tobacco cessation programme and toll-free quit line in 2016 after conducting a “global adult tobacco survey” in 2009-10 that revealed high interest among almost one in two tobacco users to quit eventually.

Strategies to support implementation of tobacco demand reduction measures in the WHO FCTC, like the “MPOWER” measures, have saved millions of people from an early death, as well as hundreds of billions of dollars in the past decade.

MPOWER was established in 2008 to promote government action on six tobacco control strategies in line with the WHO FCTC to monitor tobacco use and prevention policies; protect people from tobacco smoke; offer help to quit tobacco use; warn people about the dangers of tobacco; enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and raise taxes on tobacco.

“One in ten deaths around the world is caused by tobacco, but we can change that through MPOWER tobacco control measures, which have proven highly effective,” says Michael R. Bloomberg, WHO global ambassador for non-communicable diseases.

Even countries with limited resources can monitor tobacco use and implement prevention policies.

By generating data on youth and adults, countries can, in turn, promote health, save healthcare costs and generate revenues for government services, the report finds.

“Countries can better protect their citizens, including children, from the tobacco industry and its products when they use tobacco monitoring systems,” says Dr Douglas Bettcher, director-WHO department for the prevention of non-communicable diseases.

“Tobacco industry interference in government policy making represents a deadly barrier to advancing health and development in many countries,” says Dr Bettcher. “But by monitoring and blocking such activities, we can save lives and sow the seeds for a sustainable future for all.”

First Published: Jul 20, 2017 10:42 IST