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May 31, 2017

AXA panel discussion and Q&A on tobacco use and tobacco control

Where do public opinion, science and regulation stand right now on tobacco? And how are they likely to evolve?

  • We’ve had medical evidence on the health impacts of tobacco use since the 1950s. It’s a hard truth that tobacco use devastates health.
    Half of long-term users die from tobacco use.
  • Based on this evidence, the WHO FCTC was the fastest adopted treaty of all time. In 10 years it has gained 180 parties. Regulations — from smoke-free public places, to bans on tobacco advertising, to introduction of graphic health warnings — have been introduced around the world.
  • We were told these laws would be unpopular, but now they have strong public support – even from smokers.
  • Public opinion on smoking has evolved – in many countries it’s no longer socially acceptable. It’s toxic.
  • But this isn’t the whole picture. Low and middle income countries especially are battling to introduce and enforce tobacco control laws. Tobacco industry interference in policymaking is a huge problem.
  • 80 percent of the world’s smokers live in low and middle income countries and unless they quit, half will die prematurely.
  • And this is why today is so important.
  • As developed countries we are turning our back on tobacco use. And yet, using tobacco to make money is STILL acceptable. This needs to change.
  • So as tobacco control continues to evolve, I think our next frontier is international finance and trade.
  • Until now tobacco control has very much been the domain of health professionals. How or why do you think the involvement of the finance industry can help advance this public health goal.
  • Because we can’t do it alone. We need partners outside public health. Until now, as you say, reducing tobacco use has been the goal of doctors, health ministers and organisations like mine, working to protect and promote health.
  • But who listens when global finance firms make a statement like this? Ministers of finance and economic policymakers.
  • These are the audiences we need to reach. Who better to carry this powerful message than international finance firms themselves?
  • If YOU say tobacco is a sunset industry, it’s a net cost, it makes business sense to divest — it’s the WHOLE of government that’s going to hear that.
  • So why is it important that Ministries of Finance hear this message on tobacco?
  • The most powerful policy for reducing tobacco use is increasing tobacco tax. But very few countries have strong policies on tobacco tax.
  • If we increase tobacco tax, we reduce tobacco use. It prevents children taking up smoking and encourages people to quit.
  • A tobacco tax policy requires the buy-in of Ministers of Finance and their advisors.That’s why the message going out today is so vital. It’s a powerful message from a trusted source that resonates with economic policymakers.
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