09 August 2017 Read: 81
The World Health Organization (WHO) has released its report on the global tobacco epidemic alongside the UN high-level political forum on sustainable development. Controlling tobacco use is a key part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The report finds that more countries have implemented tobacco control policies, ranging from standardised plain packaging with strong graphic warnings and advertising bans, to no-smoking areas. Since 2007, when 1 billion people were covered with such policies (15% of the population), these measures have increased to cover 4.7 billion people or 63% of world’s population.
The report includes South Africa in the list of the highest levels of achievement. In 2001, when the legislation came into force, the country was among the world leaders. In South Africa, smoking prevalence is now down to 18.2% of the adult population (about 29% of men and 8% of women), with only 16.2% as daily smokers. Despite this, about 44,000 people die of tobacco related diseases every year in South Africa. The triple ‘D’ threat of disease, disability and death caused by tobacco, costs South Africa billions of Rand every year in treatment and lost productivity. Worldwide tobacco use is the leading single easily preventable cause of death that kills over 7 million people each year.
“Whilst we do not have the exact figures for South Africa, a calculation of a population of 50 million out of the world population of over 7.3 billion people, would ‘extrapolate’ to a public healthcare and lost productivity cost of about R12.9 billion. We can reduce this huge loss and save lives by improving our tobacco control legislation,” explains Peter Ucko, CEO of Tobacco Alcohol and Gambling Advisory Advocacy and Action Group (TAG).
“We face the problem that the tobacco industry continues to hamper government efforts to implement life- and cost-saving intervention.”
“South Africa must introduce systematic monitoring of tobacco industry interference in government policy making, which protects public health by shedding light on tobacco industry tactics. These include exaggerating the economic importance of the tobacco industry, attempting to discredit proven science and using litigation to intimidate governments.” Ucko suggests that all indoor smoking be banned and smoking must be controlled outdoors to protect people from exposure to tobacco smoke pollution (TSP). Standardised plain packaging, with large (90%) graphic health warnings and messages, need to be implemented.
Retail displays of tobacco products must be banned. Electronic cigarettes must be treated and controlled in the same way as combustible and non-combustible tobacco products.
Ucko concluded, “An important need is to increase the health tax on tobacco products. The mechanism must be restructured in such a way as to make tobacco products progressively and consistently more expensive and less affordable to the consumer.”
Nepal, India and the Philippines are among countries that conducted WHO backed initiatives to monitor tobacco use and then implemented measures to protect people from tobacco. Nepal introduced the world’s largest health warnings on tobacco packaging surfaces (covering 90% of the package) in May 2015 after using a set of household tobacco survey questions that allowed authorities to detect a high prevalence of adult male smokers and users of smokeless products.
The Philippines’ landmark Sin Tax Reform Law was passed in 2012 after its 2009 global adult tobacco survey showed high smoking rates among men (47.4%) and boys (12.9%). Such strong tobacco demand reduction measures have contributed to declining tobacco use, according to its 2015 adult tobacco survey results.
Comprehensive smoke-free legislation is currently in place for almost 1.5 billion people in 55 countries. Since 2007, dramatic progress has been witnessed in low- and middle-income countries, 35 of which have adopted a complete smoke-free law since 2007. Appropriate cessation treatment is in place for 2.4 billion people in 26 countries. 3.2 billion people live in a country that aired at least one comprehensive national anti-tobacco mass media campaign in the last two years.
Raising taxes to increase tobacco product prices is the most effective and cost effective means to reduce tobacco use and encourage users to quit. However, it is one of the least used tobacco control measures.