The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the commitment of stakeholders to the fight against tobacco across the world is paying off and that the war is being won steadily. “It’s a war that we are winning,” he stated.
He was speaking at the opening ceremony for the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH) which is currently ongoing in Cape Town, South Africa.
Over 2,500 people from more than 100 countries are attending the conference which is being held in Africa for the first time. Dr Ghebreyesus told the gathering that the same determination that started the war on tobacco still persists and that there is optimism that it will end well.
He however urged African countries to sit up because the Tobacco Industry is re-strategizing against the continent. He said the holding of the meeting in Africa should lead to a re-dedication and commitment of key players on the continent to ensuring that “the war” is totally won.
“It’s fitting that we are meeting in Africa because it is ground zero for the war on tobacco. Africa is at the heart of the Sustainable Development agenda, but is also seen as a growth market for the tobacco industry. Africa has made great strides on some health issues, such as HIV/AIDS, but the tobacco problem is in its early stages and is not being given sufficient attention,” he noted.
The Success Stories
Despite the lax in the fight against tobacco in Africa, the WHO boss said there are some success stories that the continent can boast of.
Gabon and Gambia have recently increased tobacco taxes.
Kenya is fighting the illicit tobacco trade through an advanced track and trace system;
Senegal implemented four tobacco control measures at the same time, including large graphic health warnings and a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
Ghana has passed a tobacco control legislation; an Instrument to support its implementation has also been adopted.
Uganda has passed a comprehensive tobacco control law;
Graphic health warnings are now used in eight African countries;
The West African Monetary Union (WAMU) is removing its ceiling on tobacco taxes; And 13 of the 34 countries that have ratified the illicit trade protocol are in Africa.
Outside of Africa, countries like India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand have introduced large graphic health warnings.
Some megacities in China have implemented smoke-free laws.
In 2016, Uruguay won its landmark fight against Philip Morris over tobacco packaging and labelling.
And last year, four tobacco companies were forced to publish advertisements in U.S. newspapers and on TV channels admitting they had lied to the public about the dangers of smoking in their advertising and marketing campaigns. A number of other governments have also fought off political and legal challenges to plain packaging or large graphic health warnings.
More work Ahead
Dr Ghebreyesus said despite the impressive success stories there is still more work to be done to ensure that developing countries, some of which have the highest rates of tobacco consumption, take steps to implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
“We need more countries to introduce and increase tobacco taxes to drive down smoking rates and generate revenues to fund health systems.
“We need to stop the illicit trade in tobacco products by bringing the WHO FCTC Illicit Trade Protocol into force, and we need to do all of these things and more while fighting tobacco industry interference,” he stated.
The Bold Targets
According to him, the Executive Board of WHO has endorsed the Organization’s new General Programme of Work which spells out their strategic plans for the next five years.
“It commits us to bold targets, including to see one billion more people enjoying better health and well-being by 2023. One of the key indicators for achieving that target is to reduce tobacco use globally by 25%. We are working around the clock on pioneering initiatives, like using mobile and wireless technologies to help people quit, and the Partnership for Healthy Cities, where local leaders are learning from each other to create healthier urban environments.
Minister for Health of South Africa, Aaron Motsoaledi, who formally opened the conference said the Tobacco Industry is moving its attention to middle lower and middle income countries and that it is important that advocates develop strategies to face them as such.
He said if all countries follow the MPOWER there would be a lot of progress in the fight against tobacco.
MPOWER is a policy package intended to assist in the country-level implementation of effective interventions to reduce the demand for tobacco, as ratified by the WHO FCTC.
The six evidence-based components of MPOWER include
Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies
Protect people from tobacco smoke
Offer help to quit tobacco use
Warn about the dangers of tobacco
Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
Raise taxes on tobacco
Reduce the size of cigarette
Source: Jeorge Wilson Kingson || ghananewsonline.com.gh, Cape Town, South Africa