Health experts from across the world have explained why countries should fully implement domestic tobacco control laws in their respective countries, in an exclusive webinar for media in lead up to world No Tobacco Day 2016.
The experts included Dr Tara Singh Bam, Regional Advisor – tobacco Control in Asia Pacific of International Union Against tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), John Stewart, Deputy Campaigns Director, Corporate Accountability International (TBC), Yvona Tousi, Policy Advisor of Framework Convention alliance (FCA) for Tobacco Control, and Shobha Shukla, Managing Editor, CNS (Citizen News Service).
According to the experts, tobacco is not just a health issue, but has economic implications. They are about 1.1 billion smokers of tobacco in the world, with most of them coming from middle and low income countries and most are poor. They are prone to smoking and nicotine is addictive, trapped, they spend more resources on buying tobacco that they would have used instead in areas like housing and education. Tobacco economic costs are in the region of 1 trillion dollars a year.
Its health implications include diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetics and most die premature hence causing loss of economic opportunities.
KEY FACTS ABOUT TOBACCO
According to W.H.O., tobacco kills up to half of its users. Tobacco users who die prematurely deprive family of income, rise of healthcare costs and hinder economic development. Children who work in tobacco farms are vulnerable to green tobacco sickness as they absorb nicotine through skin while handling wet tobacco leaves.
There are more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, 250 of which are more harmful and 50 which cause cancer. Exposure to tobacco smoke even for those who don’t smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer in adults. Sudden death of infants, low birth weight in pregnant women. Half of children in most parts of the world breath tobacco in public (exposed to tobacco smoke), and it (tobacco) leads to 600,000 premature death per year with children accounting for 28% of it in 2004.
W.H.O. global report on mortality attributable to tobacco states that 6 million people die from tobacco use and tobacco smoke exposure. This translates to one death every 6 seconds. This is much more alarming when considering that 22% of world population aged 15 and above are smokers.
WHAT COUNTRIES CAN DO?
Countries can do a lot to implement Domestic tobacco Control Laws to end the rampage of tobacco in the world. The Supreme Court has ruled that States are responsible to protect health and right to health, and as such the legal backing is there. They can do the following:
• Public Health Warnings (PHW) on tobacco products are one effective way to do this. W.H.O. statistics reveal that PHW made 55% of current smokers stop smoking, made 45.5% of smokers reduce number of cigarettes smoked and convinced about 30% of youths who would have become smokers not to smoke.
• Tobacco Taxes – raising taxes on tobacco and prices is good for health, and earns revenue for government and effectively reduce tobacco consumption and health care costs – it provides revenue for developments in many countries (Addis Ababa Action Agenda).
• Youth Target – youths are target of tobacco control not tobacco industry. Youth are a soft target, they play an important role in tobacco control and they should be empowered, engaged to combat tobacco use. The experts agreed that they are two ways to reduce tobacco use, prevent youth from starting to use tobacco and encourage/help users to quit.
• Smoke Free Environments – countries should promote smoke free environments, as this would reduce the hazards from tobacco smoke among other benefits.
• Monitoring – tobacco use and prevention policies protect people from tobacco use.
• Cessation Programmes – there is no cessation assistance of any kind in ¼ of low income countries. Countries should promote cessation assistance programmes in their countries.
• Mass Media – use it to warn the public about dangers of use of tobacco; media has to take control of tobacco control.
• Advertising Bans – only 29 countries have banned all forms of tobacco advert, promotion and sponsorship and this has decreased use of tobacco by 7%.
In response to a question why African countries have failed to implement policies to stop tobacco use, especially implementing decisions, an expert revealed that implementation is not there and there is need for awareness in government, medical profession and media, to reach the people who matter and control policies on communication between those who are to control tobacco use and the people in African countries, hence actually we have no control in Africa.
Government cannot ban tobacco in the interest of people’s health because it is a huge earner of revenue in some countries, was the answer given by another expert on this matter asked by a media person.
The good news is that many countries have signed on the W.H.O. framework convention on tobacco control, which is legally binding, covers 90% of world population and is a package of evidence based tobacco control measures. Action on these provides 17 sustainable development goals, a health targets to reduce death from cancer and about 4 means of implementation of targets.
The not so good news is that commitments from countries are in place but action is lagging behind.
THE FIGHT AGAINST TOBACCO COMPANIES
The fight against tobacco companies by countries and health bodies seem to be growing weaker by the day. Tobacco companies earn an annual $200 billion which is greater than GDP of 12 countries including Mali, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Panama and Jordan.
Tobacco companies operate by subverting efforts of W.H.O. to control tobacco use, according to W.H.O. report of committee of experts in tobacco industries. Attempts are usually well financed, elaborate, sophisticated and invisible. Their community service relationship promotes both brand and profit. The companies have 161 lobbyists working in European parliament.
A BBC panorama documentary about bribery scandal in tobacco industry titled “The Secret Bribes of Big Tobacco” expose British America tobacco, BAT, as bribing to undermine UN campaigns to save lives. BAT made ₤4.5 billion profits in that year and is 5th biggest company in Britain and sold 667 billion cigarettes last year. BAT has been involved in years of systematic bribery in Africa; hundreds of thousands of dollars were given to decision makers.
According to W.H.O. report, tobacco industry interference with tobacco control, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Director General of the W.H.O. rightly described tobacco use as a “communicated disease – communicated through marketing”. The tobacco industry has used its economic power, lobbying and marketing machinery and manipulation of the media to discredit scientific research and influence governments in order to propagate the sale and distribution of its deadly products, added this report.
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