Top United Nations officials Thursday called on governments to resist the increasingly aggressive steps taken by the tobacco industry to undermine efforts to diminish use of the substance, which kills almost six million people every year.
“The interests of the tobacco industry and of public health are directly opposed,” Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in his World No Tobacco Day release. The day is observed annually on May 31.
“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,” he added.
The World Health Organization’s theme for this year’s World No Tobacco Day is tobacco industry interference. It focuses on the need to expose and counter what it calls the tobacco industry’s brazen and increasingly aggressive attempts to undermine global tobacco control efforts.
In his message for the Day, the U.N. chief noted that tobacco takes a pervasive, heavy toll, hindering development and worsening 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,” he said.
He added that 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.
“Tobacco control is essential to achieving our global development goals,” he said. “If we do not step up our efforts to control it, tobacco could kill up to one billion people this century.”
Among the tools the world has at its disposal to fight tobacco use and protect public health is the World Health Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. With 175 signers, it became one of the most rapidly embraced treaties in U.N. history after it entered into force in 2005.
“I urge all governments and civil society to prevent the tobacco industry from derailing the implementation of the Framework Convention,” the secretary general said. “Let us resist the industry’s attacks and pursue our vision of a tobacco-free world.”
According to WHO, more countries are moving to meet their obligations under the Framework Convention, with governments working to create 100 per cent smoke-free, enclosed work and public places, to inform the public of tobacco harms through large and strong pictorial warning on tobacco packages and to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
Meanwhile, the tobacco industry is working to undermine the treaty, including taking governments to court, the U.N. health agency noted. Currently, the Governments of Australia, Norway and Uruguay are battling tobacco industry law suits in tehir national courts.