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‘Tobacco-free world’ achievable by 2040

Friday March 13th, 2015

The United Nations should lead a “turbo-charged” effort to rid the world of tobacco sale and consumption by 2040, an international group of health experts will say today.

Led by Professors Robert Beaglehole and Ruth Bonita from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, the experts say a time for tobacco to be “out of sight, out of mind, and out of fashion – yet not prohibited” could be achieved within 30 years.

But it will only work if there is full commitment from governments, international agencies, such as UN and WHO, and civil society.

The call comes as the group publishes a major new Series in The Lancet on the sale and consumption of tobacco, to be launched Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, at the 2015 World Conference on Tobacco or Health, the world's largest gathering of tobacco control advocates, policy makers, researchers, public health and clinical experts.

Professor Beaglehole said there could be as many as one billion deaths from smoking and other forms of tobacco by the end of this century if efforts to tackle tobacco use are not accelerated. More than 80% of these deaths will be in low- and middle-income countries.

“The time has come for the world to acknowledge the unacceptability of the damage being done by the tobacco industry and work towards a world essentially free from the legal and illegal sale of tobacco products,” he said.

“A world where tobacco is out of sight, out of mind, and out of fashion – yet not prohibited – is achievable in less than three decades from now, but only with full commitment from governments, international agencies, such as UN and WHO, and civil society.”

Only 15% of the world’s population have adequate access to smoking cessation programmes, while fewer than one in ten people are covered by tobacco taxation at levels recommended by WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which was introduced 10 years ago.

Although implementation of the FCTC has been successful in some countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, Finland, United Kingdom, and some Pacific Island countries, global tobacco regulation now needs to be “turbo-charged”, say the Series’ authors.

This can be achieved by accelerating the FCTC in countries that have been slow to implement it, and for the UN to take a leading role in galvanising global and national action to eliminate the sale and use of tobacco, they add.

Until now, regulatory efforts have focused too much on reducing demand for tobacco, write the authors, and further progress will be threatened unless the supply of tobacco, which is dominated by four major international companies, and the state-owned Chinese National Tobacco Company, can be tackled through stronger regulations and closer scrutiny of the industry’s conduct.

“Contrary to industry claims, tobacco marketing deliberately targets women and young people,” says Professor Anna Gilmore, from the University of Bath, England.

“The tobacco industry continues to interfere with governments’ efforts to implement effective tobacco control policies. If the world is to become tobacco free, it’s vital that the industry’s appalling conduct receives far closer scrutiny and countries which stand up to the industry’s bullying tactics receive better global support.”

According to Professor Gonghuan Yang, from the Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, China, tobacco use among adult men in China is one of the highest in the world and is increasing. A total of 1.4 million deaths in China were attributed to tobacco use in 2010.

Although there are some promising developments in nationwide legislation are under consideration – including protecting people from second-hand smoke and banning all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship – the next challenge will be to increase cigarette tax and changes to health warnings on standardised cigarette packaging to reduce tobacco consumption, said Prof Yang.

“China has the potential to be successful in tackling the pandemic of tobacco use among Chinese people, but only if the governmental structure is changed to allow tobacco regulations to be implemented independently from the tobacco industry,” he added.

The Lancet Series on a tobacco-free world, The Lancet 13 March 2015.

Tags: Asia | Australia | Drug & Alcohol Abuse

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