Tobacco giants undermining public health, say UN, WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) yesterday said tobacco giants undermine public health.

The WHO, at an event in Geneva, Switzerland to mark the World No Tobacco Day, accused tobacco giants of stalling efforts to implement the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a global treaty with 175 countries as parties.

The WHO, in a statement made available to The Nation, said tobacco giants have stepped up efforts to prevent tobacco control laws, thus paving way for annual death toll from tobacco use to soar to over six million world- wide. 

WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said: “In recent years, multinational tobacco companies have been shamelessly fuelling a series of legal actions against governments that have been at the forefront of the war against tobacco. The industry is now stepping out of the shadows and into court rooms. We must now stand together with these governments that have had the courage to do the right thing to protect their citizens.” 

Chan called on national leaders to be extra vigilant against the increasingly aggressive attacks by the tobacco industry, which undermine policies that protect people from the harms of tobacco.

 Director of WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative Dr Douglas Bettcher said: “National leaders need to resist these tactics and use the full force of the Convention to protect the hard won gains to safeguard people’s health from the scourge of tobacco.”

The WHO statement reads: “ The tobacco industry however, is hard at work to undermine the treaty, including taking governments to court. In fact, the governments of Australia, Norway and Uruguay are currently battling tobacco industry law suits in their national courts.  “In line with article 5.3 countries should, among other measures: limit interactions and disclose all meetings with the tobacco industry; reject partnerships and non-binding agreements with the industry; refuse funds and other support, and reject industry endorsement and participation in youth initiatives. 

“In addition, countries should not grant incentives, privileges or benefits to the tobacco industry, such as subsidies or tax exemptions, and should create firewalls against the interference of the tobacco industry in public health, including State-owned tobacco companies. 

“Tobacco kills up to half its users. By 2030, WHO estimates that tobacco will kill more than 8 million people every year, with four out of five of these deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries.

“Tobacco is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, cardio-vascular disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases. NCDs account for 63% of all deaths worldwide

“In nonsmokers, exposure to secondhand smoke is estimated to kill another 600 000 people annually. Almost half of all children regularly breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke and more than 40 per cent of children have at least one smoking parent. In 2004, children accounted for nearly one third of deaths attributable to secondhand smoke. 

“Most adult smokers started the habit before the age 20. To recruit new smokers, the industry’s relentless marketing machinery targets youth, especially young women.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, in a statement,  said tobacco giants are becoming aggressive in their quest to kill tobacco control legislations.

He urged governments and teh civil society to checkmate the tobacco giants.

The UN Secretary-General statement reads: ”This year’s World No Tobacco Day comes at a time when the tobacco industry is taking ever more aggressive steps to undermine efforts to reduce the global menace of tobacco.  While governments and the international health community try to implement effective measures to contain tobacco use and protect the health of people, their efforts are being aggressively opposed by an industry whose products kill people.

 “Tobacco kills by causing cancer, heart disease and respiratory diseases.  It is one of the leading preventable risk factors for non-communicable diseases.  Every year, about 5 million people die because they use tobacco. Another 600,000 people die from exposure to second-hand smoke.

 “Tobacco takes a pervasive, heavy toll.  It hinders development and worsens poverty.  Tobacco and poverty create a vicious circle since it is the poor who smoke most and bear the brunt of the economic and disease burden of tobacco use.  Money spent on tobacco cannot be used to pay for food, education and health care.  And tobacco use is growing fastest in low-income countries that are least equipped to deal with its consequences. 

” The world has established effective tools to fight tobacco use and protect public health policies from being diluted by the tobacco industry.  The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control — with 174 Parties — became one of the most rapidly embraced treaties in United Nations history after it entered into force in 2005.  In the Political Declaration adopted at the High Level Meeting on Non-communicable Diseases last year, the international community reiterated its determination to reduce tobacco consumption and availability.

” Tobacco control is essential to achieving our global development goals.  If we do not step up our efforts to control it, tobacco could kill up to one billion people this century.  The interests of the tobacco industry and of public health are directly opposed.

“On this observance of World No Tobacco Day, I urge all governments and civil society to prevent the tobacco industry from derailing the implementation of the Framework Convention.  Let us resist the industry’s attacks and pursue our vision of a tobacco-free world.”

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Tobacco giants undermining public health, say UN, WHO