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On World No Tobacco Day: To Build Back Better, We Must Shape Our Society and Our Environment to Support Health and Combat Tobacco Use

Statement from José Luis Castro, President and CEO of Vital Strategies on World No Tobacco Day, May 31, 2021

“Tobacco use is the greatest single source of preventable death and disease worldwide—responsible for 8 million deaths each year. Vital Strategies has partnered with governments around the globe for close to two decades, co-creating solutions that change policies—and attitudes—about the acceptability of tobacco use.   

Now is the time for bold, comprehensive action on Tobacco. COVID-19’s tragic toll has fueled vulnerabilities from decades of underinvestment and inattention to prevention and preparedness, including more than a billion people more susceptible to illness because of current tobacco use. For our healthiest future, we must act to shape our society and our environment to support health.  

This includes contending with the persuasive marketing by companies that profit from health harming products—a potent driver of poor health. The tobacco industry spends billions of dollars each year on aggressive advertising to normalize a deadly product and addict a new generation of tobacco users. In addition, government policies continue to be unduly influenced by the industry, and tobacco products are too often insufficiently regulated and taxed.  

We urge governments to enact policies that help make the healthy choice the easy choice, strengthening policies that weave health into all aspects of society and policy. To reduce tobacco use and prevent youth from starting, governments must enforce effective tobacco control laws, including the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and MPOWER package, and support communication campaigns that raise awareness about the dangers of tobacco. 

Despite the well-deserved global focus on COVID-19 response, this difficult year was not without progress in tobacco control. In the U.S., advocates welcome a long overdue decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban menthol-flavored cigarettes. We are gladdened that the FDA’s decision to regulate menthol in one of the world’s biggest markets will inspire equity elsewhere. In Brazil, the highest court upheld flavor bans for cigarettes, putting an end to the issue once and for all.  We have also seen that local leadership matters, Mayor H. Oded Muhammad Danial of Bandung, Indonesia unveiled a new smoke-free law which prohibits smoking in seven types of public spaces—a tremendous outcome of the city’s participation in the Partnership for Healthy Cities supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies in partnership with WHO and Vital Strategies. The law will protect the health of countless urban residents and serve as a model for other urban centers in the region and the world. 

However, we must remember the tobacco industry has a long history of sabotaging or delaying public health measures. Industry interference in policymaking remains rampant, and, despite mandates for comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising in many countries, tobacco marketing continues to be widespread, particularly in online forums that are less regulated. 

Timed for World No Tobacco Day, Vital Strategies will launch the Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement (TERM), a platform providing situation reports designed to monitor and provide evidence of online marketing activities of tobacco products in India. In March 2021 alone, 770 instances were reported. TERM highlights gaps in current policies and provides technical support to government and civil society. Currently operating in India, TERM will soon include reports from Indonesia and over the coming year extend to other countries with high burdens of tobacco use to strengthen advertising bans and serve as a model for other locations trying to counter industry interference. 

Echoing this year’s World No Tobacco Day theme, Commit to Quit, Vital Strategies is also delivering proven, effective campaigns across countries with high burdens of tobacco use including Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Philippines, Ukraine, Viet Nam. Campaigns include “When You Quit,” “Quit Smoking to Protect Your Loved Ones,” among others, which encourage cessation efforts and public support for stronger tobacco control policies including smoke-free laws. 

At Vital Strategies, we’re committed to ensuring everyone, everywhere, is protected by a strong public health system. That includes protection from the harms of tobacco and the tobacco industry. On World No Tobacco Day we urge governments to join our critical work: to promote tobacco control policies, support public education campaigns, and openly challenge the tobacco industry’s tactics. Together, we can reverse this global epidemic.” 

For more information on Vital Strategies’ work in tobacco control, please visit: https://www.vitalstrategies.org/programs/tobacco-control/ 

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible.

To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.

Media Contacts

Christina Honeysett, choneysett@vitalstrategies.org

Ally Davis, adavis@vitalstrategies.org