WHO reveals how tobacco control measures are improving health worldwide

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Posted on July 11, 2013

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2013 shows more people worldwide are benefiting from tobacco control measures.

The report, released today, said that 2.3 billion people living in 92 countries (a third of the world’s population) are now covered by at least one measure protecting them against tobacco’s effects. This figure has more than doubled in the past five years.

But tobacco use continues to be the leading global cause of preventable death, killing approximately six million people and causing more than half a trillion dollars of economic damage annually.

In 2008, WHO identified six evidence-based tobacco control measures that are the most effective for reducing tobacco use. Known as “MPOWer”, the measures correspond to one or more of the demand reduction provisions included in the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control:

  • 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.

The report says three billion people now live in regions with national anti-tobacco campaigns and, as a result, hundreds of millions of people are less likely to start smoking.

Professor of Health Policy at Curtin University Mike Daube said the report’s findings are positive, despite the harsh realities of tobacco’s impact worldwide.

“We are making global progress in tobacco control – more countries banning tobacco advertising, implementing non-smoking provisions, mandating health warnings and running public education programs – but the grim reality is that around the world each year people are still smoking six trillion cigarettes, leading to six million deaths,” he said

“The power of the tobacco industry remains immense. It continues to oppose and delay action in developed countries and to promote its products ruthlessly in developing countries,” he noted.

“The catastrophic news is that more than 60 years after we learned unequivocally about the dangers of smoking, this remains our largest preventable cause of death and disease and action by most governments is slow, limited and resisted by the tobacco industry at every step.”

Associate Professor Billie Bonevski, a research fellow for the Cancer Institute NSW and a research academic in the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Newcastle, referred to the report’s finding that low- and middle-income countries are a target for the tobacco industry and said more needs to be done to stem their power in these places.

“Resources should be directed to these countries to ensure they are equipped with the workforce and legislative power to counter the tobacco industry’s efforts. Tobacco control efforts need to reach the whole of the population, especially people who find it difficult to stop smoking,” she said.

“Even in developed countries, we’re seeing a concentration of smoking amongst socially disadvantaged and vulnerable sub-groups of the population. Bans on tobacco advertising and promotion alone are unlikely to help highly addicted smokers to quit. Evidence-based nicotine dependence treatments need to be easily accessible for these smokers.”

Professor Daube said that while Australia was doing well, the battle is far from over.

“It is encouraging that Australia is a world leader in tobacco control – but we cannot afford to be complacent: we must continue to show other countries that we can win our battles against Big Tobacco.”

Source: The Conversation, story by Zoe Ferguson