A report from the World Health Organization reveals the battle against the global tobacco epidemic is far from won, even as more countries adopt measures such as smoke-free environments and warnings on packaging to curb its use.
Billions of people living in countries that have not yet fully implemented even one of six effective measures to control tobacco recommended by the organisation. These include offering help with quitting smoking, raising taxes on tobacco, banning tobacco advertising and warning people of the dangers of tobacco. 2.6 billion people are living in countries without even one such stringent measure to control tobacco use.
It is estimated that about 1.1 billion people are currently smokers. According to the WHO, about half of those who use tobacco will die as a result, with about 7 million smokers and 1 million non-smokers dying every year from tobacco use – the latter as a result of passive smoking.Dr Vinayak Prasad, head of the WHO’s tobacco control team, said there was cause for optimism despite the power of the tobacco industry. “We have a very solid opponent, but having said that if you look at the progress since the last report I haven’t seen any major rollbacks of policies,” he said. “That is a huge win.” Prasad said there were a number of barriers to improving the global situation, including tobacco companies launching new products and issues around political will. While smoking rates have declined in some high-income countries, Chinese and Indonesian consumption increased in the decade to 2013.
Prof Linda Bauld, an expert on tobacco use and public health at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in the latest report, said the two studies were not necessarily at odds. “What this WHO report definitely underlines is how gradual the progress is and how much time it takes for countries actually to get to grips with this treaty and all its articles,” she said. Bauld added that some countries were struggling to provide basic healthcare, and did not have the resources to enforce policies they introduced – and were more vulnerable to lobbying by the powerful tobacco industry. “We are moving in the right direction but progress is too slow,” she said. “People are dying all the time who don’t need to.”
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