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July 19, 2017

Tobacco Use Continues to Ravage Countries With Weak Tobacco Control Laws

(New York, USA) – Vital Strategies today welcomed the publication of the World Health Organization (WHO) report on the global tobacco epidemic, 2017. This biennial report reveals global progress and continuing challenges on the enactment of measures to help countries implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). In this year’s report, it was revealed that 4.7 billion people – almost two-thirds of the world’s population, are now protected by at least one measure at the highest level of achievement. But fifty-seven countries have yet to adopt a single measure at the highest level of achievement and 2.7 billion people remain unprotected from the health, economic, environmental and social harms of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

José Luis Castro, President and Chief Executive Officer, Vital Strategies commented: “This report shows the progress made by governments since 2007, but also reveals the extent of the task that still lies ahead. The degree of tobacco industry interference, both in the activities of the Conference of Parties to the FCTC and in the development and implementation of local and national tobacco control laws, has been exposed by reporting from The Guardian and Reuters over the past week. This has revealed how the tobacco industry is using the considerable resources at its disposal to make progress as slow and difficult as possible.

“We must resist and expose the tobacco industry’s tactics if governments are to meet their commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals. Quite simply, there is no way to reduce the burden of disease and premature death and the US$1.4 trillion cost of tobacco-related healthcare and lost productivity, which is a drag on development, without reducing tobacco use.”

Population growth means that the tobacco epidemic is still on track to cause an unsustainable health and economic burden over the course of this century. Statistical modelling indicates that 68 percent of smokers – 765 million people – are men in middle income countries. In contrast, the epidemic among women is more evenly split between high income countries, where 85 million women are smokers, and low and middle income countries, which are home to a similar number of women who smoke. In addition, 86 percent of the more than 346 million adults who use smokeless tobacco live in South East Asia. The report also notes that 25 million 13-15 year old children smoke tobacco and almost 13 million use smokeless tobacco products.

The report notes that over the past two years, there has been progress on graphic health warnings, with nearly half the world’s population now covered by this important measure. Disappointingly, there has been a reduction in the number of countries implementing population-level, best practice anti-tobacco mass media campaigns. Most disappointing, however, has been the continued lack of progress on tobacco taxation – the single most effective policy to reduce tobacco use. In addition, much more needs to be done to stop the tobacco industry from marketing its products – particularly to vulnerable populations.

Mr. Castro continued: “We will continue to help local and national governments to implement best practice mass media campaigns. Our new Media Beacon resource is a timely addition to the tools available to governments, enabling them to adapt and implement best practice mass media campaigns in a highly time and cost-effective way, to help to change knowledge, attitudes and behaviors around tobacco.

”With the focus on the Sustainable Development Goals, we are embarking upon a new phase in tobacco control, at a time when population growth means the overall burden of tobacco is growing even as prevalence has reduced. This work has never been more important, nor more urgent. Vital Strategies stands ready to play its part.”

Research has shown that mass media campaigns and large graphic pack warnings are among the most effective means to encourage people to stop using tobacco. Hard-hitting campaigns and images can compel tobacco users to quit, increase knowledge of the health risks of tobacco use, and promote behavior change in both smokers and non-smokers. They are featured in the World Health Organization’s M-P-O-W-E-R (W=Warn) strategies to reduce tobacco consumption. MPOWER strategies are endorsed and promoted by the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, of which Vital Strategies is a principal partner.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that seeks to accelerate progress on the world’s most pressing health problems. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health and tobacco control expert, please contact Tracey Johnston, Vital Strategies, at +44.7889.081.170 or tjohnston@vitalstrategies.org

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