Smoking rates are falling, and lives are being saved as more countries implement policies and control measures to curb the global tobacco epidemic, according to a World Health Organization report issued Monday that rates country progress in tobacco control.
New data show that the adoption of the WHO’s package of six tobacco control measures 15 years ago has protected millions of people from the harmful effects of tobacco use.
The measures, which were launched in 2008, call on governments to monitor tobacco use and prevention policies, protect people from tobacco smoke, offer help to quit tobacco use, warn people about the dangers of tobacco, enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, and to raise taxes on tobacco.
“Without this decline, there would be an estimated 300 million more smokers in the world today,” said Ruediger Krech, WHO director for health promotion.
He said more than 5.6 billion people, that is 71% of the world population, live in countries that have implemented at least one of these lifesaving protective measures.
“What an achievement,” he said. “This policy package has literally changed our lives. It means that families can go out to restaurants without worrying about their children breathing secondhand smoke.
“It means that people that want help to quit smoking can get the support that they need. More than that,” he said, “it means that we are protected from the many deadly diseases caused by secondhand smoke.”
However, he noted that 2.3 billion people live in the 44 countries that have not implemented any tobacco control measures “leaving them at risk of the health and economic burden of tobacco use.”
Until recently, only Turkey and Brazil had succeeded in enacting all six of the so-called MPOWER tobacco control measures. WHO reports Mauritius and the Netherlands now have joined this elite group, becoming the first African country and the first high-income country to achieve this best-practice level.
Kailesh Kumar Singh Jagutpal, Mauritius Minister of Health and Wellness said his country was one of the first signatories of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2004. Since then, he said his government has been continuously implementing the articles contained in the agreement.
He said Mauritius began amending its legislation and tobacco control laws in 2008 to blunt the heavy toll smoking was taking on his country’s aging population.
“The prevalence of cardiovascular diseases, cancers, stroke, diabetes, hypertension is quite high in Mauritius. We are also experiencing aging of the population…So, these combined effects of an aging population, significant effect of co-morbidity forced the government to take bold action.”
Jagutpal said his government has been using WHO-recommended measures to discourage smoking to good effect. These include banning the advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of tobacco products; prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to minors, helping people to quit tobacco use, creating smoke-free places, and raising taxes on cigarettes.
The minister said these measures are working, with surveys showing that smoking has declined from 30% in 1987 to 18.3% in 2021.
WHO’s report on the global tobacco epidemic focuses on protecting the public from secondhand smoke. It finds a growing number of countries are passing laws designating smoke-free indoor public places.
Krech said nearly 40% of countries have achieved this goal. “Today, 74 countries protect their populations, making up to 25% of the world’s population with comprehensive smoke-free legislation in public indoor areas like health care, education facilities, as well as hospitality venues like restaurants and cafes.”
But he warned the battle against the global tobacco epidemic was far from over.
“Tobacco use continues to be one of the biggest public health threats with 8.7 million people dying from tobacco related diseases every year, 1.3 million of these deaths are amongst non-smokers that are subjected to secondhand smoke.”
Krech said tobacco remained the leading cause of preventable death in the world, largely due to relentless marketing campaigns by the tobacco industry.
He urged governments to “push back against the tobacco and nicotine industries,” who lobby against public health measures by using different ploys “to hook children on to e-cigarettes and vaping to make them nicotine dependent.”
Then, of course, he said “they will switch to cigarettes afterward.”