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Statement on the release of WHO Tobacco Epidemic Report

Statement from José Luis Castro, President and CEO of Vital Strategies, on the release of WHO Tobacco Epidemic Report:

“Tobacco use is responsible for 8 million deaths annually and is the greatest source of preventable death and disease. Today the World Health Organization released the latest Tobacco Epidemic Report highlighting commendable progress in advancing tobacco control globally. 15 years after the launch of the WHO MPOWER policy package, the report shows that 5.6 billion people–almost three quarters of the world–are protected by at least one policy measure. Taken with recent reports showing the first-ever decline in global smoking prevalence to 19.6% in 2019, there are welcome signs that we are finally turning the tide against the nefarious tobacco industry. 

The data also show that progress has slowed. Of particular concern is a 13% decrease in the world population covered by mass media campaigns. As outlined in the Tobacco Atlas, effective and sustained media campaigns accelerate policy progress by building public support, and directly improve population health by driving smokers to quit and preventing youth initiation.

We call on governments to recommit to sustained anti-tobacco media campaigns in the face of a voracious and evolving industry. We cannot cede the hearts, minds and health of future generations to relentless corporate marketing. The evidence base for campaigns is decades strong and has been confirmed by Vital Strategies’ own research and experience in this space. Since 2019, Vital Strategies-supported campaigns in partnership with dozens of governments have contributed to 66 policy improvements, including national comprehensive tobacco control laws in Mexico and Ukraine, smoke-free cities in China, and increased tobacco taxes in Turkey and Pakistan.

It is also crucial to monitor the marketing of a rapidly changing tobacco industry and understand and counter how they are recruiting new users. Vital Strategies’ surveillance tool, Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement (TERM) is a good example of how novel and rapid surveillance can arm governments to understand tobacco industry marketing on social media and news sites.  We’re proud partners in STOP, whose watchdog reports alert governments and advocates with the tobacco industries’ latest efforts to skirt and stymie effective health regulations and recruit a new generation of tobacco users.

Over 2 billion lives remain at stake, unprotected by MPOWER measures and vulnerable to the harms of tobacco. Today’s report confirms concrete progress. Together we can accelerate that progress and protect the next generation from the tobacco industry.”

For more information on Vital Strategies’ work in tobacco control, please visit our Tobacco Control Program page.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies believes every person should be protected by an equitable and effective public health system. We partner with governments, communities, and organizations around the world to reimagine public health so that health is supported in all the places we live, work, and play. The result is millions of people living longer, healthier lives.

To learn more, visit, or follow us @VitalStrat.