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CEO Perspective

Speech to 3rd Asia Pacific Cities Alliance for Tobacco Control and Prevention of NCDs

The following speech was given at the opening of the 3rd Asia Pacific Cities Alliance for Tobacco Control and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases Summit
 [3rd AP-CAT Summit]
 held in Singapore from 4 – 6 December.

Honourable Mr. Edwin Tong, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Law and Ministry of Health of Singapore; Dr. Bima Arya, Mayor of Bogor City and Co-Chair of AP-CAT; Francis Anthony S. Garcia, Mayor of Balanga City and Co-Chair of AP-CAT…

Honorable Members of Parliament from Bangladesh, Nepal, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Vietnam; Dr Cut Putri Arianie, Director, Noncommunicable Disease Control, Ministry of Health Indonesia; Mr. Zee Yoong Kang, Chief Executive Officer, Health Promotion Board, Singapore…

Mayors, senior government officials, Distinguished delegates…

On behalf of The Union, we are honoured to welcome you to the third AP-CAT Summit. It is our great pleasure to host this meeting in collaboration with the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Indonesia.

The AP-CAT Summit issues a call for a collective resolution to fight tobacco and noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) by integrating tobacco control into the wider health and development agenda.

We deeply appreciate that subnational leaders play a central role in overall development and good city governance. Mayors generally head the political and administrative parts of urban governments that are so important to people’s daily lives, as they manage the infrastructure and services that directly influence people’s quality of life.

Tobacco use is the most alarming risk factor for diseases, causing millions of deaths every year and contributing to the enormous burden of noncommunicable disease all over the world. In many countries in the Western Pacific, anti-tobacco laws are poorly enforced. The public health community is in a constant battle with the tobacco industry who are mainly targeting young people and trying to weaken the public health efforts.

This is where political leadership is so critical. We need leaders who can stand up to the tobacco industry and serve the best interest of the people by preventing industry interference in the public health policymaking. We saw national leaders come together at the UN General Assembly last September and commit to implementing the Framework Convention without any tobacco industry interference. We need leaders who are champions for health in order make this commitment a reality.

Distinguished delegates,

We are here to discuss the current situation and come up with actions on how to accelerate tobacco control and prevention of NCDs in all countries at sub-national, national and regional levels. NCDs are preventable by public policies that tackle five major risk factors namely; tobacco use; harmful use of alcohol; unhealthy diets; physical inactivity and air pollution. We are confident that this meeting is an outstanding opportunity to evaluate current strategies to fight tobacco and to develop a way forward together. It is time that subnational leaders join national Ministries of Health, other government departments and the public health community to adopt best-practice policies such as those laid out by the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control.

This includes raising tobacco taxes and investing the revenue in public education about tobacco harms and toward improving health systems; strengthening smoke-free legislation; advocating for larger graphic warning labels on all tobacco products, and banning all types of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. These interventions are proven to work to reduce smoking and prevent premature deaths.

Many of you in this room have experienced interference from the tobacco companies. We are mindful that in order to reduce smoking and protect public health, we must overcome this hurdle together.

Through our US affiliate, Vital Strategies, we have begun serious work on air pollution and are looking for opportunities to expand our partnerships with cities on health-based air quality management

It is noteworthy to mention here that tobacco smoking is a significant risk factor for TB. WHO estimates that TB rates could decline as much as 20% if smoking was eliminated. It is our call to national and subnational policy makers to implement a brief smoking cessation into TB Control Programme through regular primary health services.

The mission of The Union is to develop, implement and assess approaches for improving public health in low and middle-income populations. The Union has been at the scientific forefront in combatting tuberculosis for nearly 100 years. We continue to engage in most cutting-edge aspects of tuberculosis and lung disease, with particular emphasis on Tobacco Control.

Since 2006, The Union has played an active role in the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, implementing tobacco control interventions in the countries with the highest burden of tobacco- related disease.

Today we support tobacco control in 61 countries, and we’re part of an international network of organisations working to combat the tobacco epidemic. In the Asia Pacific, we work with government, civil society and professional organizations in Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Timor-Leste, Laos, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and other countries.

I congratulate you all for the significant progress that has been made on tobacco control in these countries.

And I would like to acknowledge the commitments and the support of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Indonesia in advancing tobacco control at both national and regional levels. I would also like to acknowledge the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies.

It is my pleasure to extend my sincere gratitude to the Honourable Mr. Edwin Tong, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Law and Ministry of Health, Singapore for gracing the ceremony. We would like to welcome and appreciate Singapore’s recent decisions to implement standardized packaging (plain packaging) by 2020 that would contribute to denormalize tobacco in our community. Let us all give a round of applause to the Minister.

I also would like to say how much I appreciate the leadership of the AP-CAT co-chairs Mayor Bima and Mayor Francis.

As we proceed with the Summit, I look forward to learning from your experiences and insights, on leadership, on policy and advocacy, on implementation, monitoring and research—all of which are so critical to tobacco control and to addressing NCDs.