Report says more tobacco controls being adopted in Americas

A.M. Costa Rica graphic Most cigarrets today are filtered.

A growing number of countries in the Americas are adopting measures to reduce consumption of tobacco and exposure to secondhand smoke. But a new report from the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization recommends further measures, particularly increases in tobacco taxes and bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship.

The new Tobacco Control Report for the Region of the Americas summarizes progress in the implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world’s first international public health treaty, which requires nations to apply a series of policies and measures aimed at reducing tobacco consumption and protecting people from secondhand smoke. The treaty has been in force since 2005. Costa Rica ratified the treaty in 2008 but still has not passed the required legislation.

Of 35 countries in the Americas, 29 have ratified the treaty, most recently, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. St. Kitts and Nevis. Argentina, Cuba, El Salvador, Haiti, and the United States have only signed the treaty, implying they will make good-faith efforts to ratify it and, in the meantime, will not undermine its objectives. The Dominican Republic is the only country in the hemisphere that has neither signed nor ratified the treaty.

The treaty requires large, graphic health warnings on tobacco packaging, a program to monitor the consumption of tobacco products, a ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and increased taxes on such products. The treaty also requires countries to protect citizens from tobacco smoke.

According to the Pan American Health Organization Costa Rica has about 16 percent of the adults who smoke and a slightly lower percentage of minors. About 24 percent of adult males use tobacco and just 8 percent of adult females, said the report. The percentage is nearly even with minors, 16.9 percent of males and 13.1 percent of females.

“The wide endorsement of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in our Region shows that there is clear political will for making tobacco control more comprehensive and more successful,” Mirta Roses, director of the health agency, says in the report.

The report examines both achievements and challenges in the implementation of these measures in the countries of the Americas. Highlights in the report include:

• Brazil, Colombia, Panama, and Uruguay are the countries that have advanced the most in implementing tobacco control measures recommended by the World Health Organization.

• At least 24 countries still allow tobacco advertising on domestic television and radio broadcasts and in national newspapers. Colombia and Panamá are the only countries that have and enforce bans on such advertising. The treaty requires countries to ban such advertising within five years of the treaty’s entrance into force in a country. Costa Rica has not done so.

• Argentina and Chile are the only countries that tax tobacco products at 75 percent or more of the retail price (nevertheless, tobacco prices in Argentina are still among the lowest in the Americas). Few countries in the region have raised tobacco taxes incrementally and continually, as required by the treaty.

• A number of Latin American and Caribbean countries approved new 100 percent smoke-free laws in 2010 and 2011. Last year, Brazil became the world’s largest country to have such laws. Currently, 13 countries in the Americas are 100 percent smoke-free, meaning they have local or national laws covering at least 90 percent of the population that ban smoking in all closed public spaces and workplaces (with no exceptions).

• Sixteen countries (six of them starting in 2010 or 2011) now comply with World Health’s three key recommendations on health warnings, i.e., that they take up at least 50 percent of the principal display area on tobacco packaging (the exception is Colombia, where they take up 30 percent), they include graphic warnings, and they do not allow misleading or deceptive phrases such as “low-tar,” “light,” or “mild.” The Treaty requires compliance with its articles on health warnings within three years of its entrance into force in a given country.

• Very few countries in the Americas provide strong support for smoking cessation as recommended by the treaty, such as national telephone quit lines, nicotine replacement therapy, and other support services that are cost-covered and easily accessible.

In addition, the report presents data on smoking rates among adults and youths in different countries. Rates in South America point to a closing of the gender gap. In Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, smoking rates are now higher among teenage girls than teenage boys.

Tobacco kills nearly 6 million people each year around the globe, as a result of direct consumption or exposure to secondhand smoke. At least 1 million of these deaths occur in the Americas. If current trends continue, the number of tobacco deaths worldwide is projected to climb to 7.5 million annually by 2020. Tobacco use is the single most important risk factor for chronic noncommunicable diseases, which are the leading cause of death worldwide.

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