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Global Tobacco Control Efforts Underway but Gains Elusive

  • Jessica Berman

A man smokes a cigar in Washington, D.C. (D. Bekheet/VOA)

A man smokes a cigar in Washington, D.C. (D. Bekheet/VOA)

The number of adult cigarette smokers worldwide is increasing, particularly in poor countries, despite the adoption of a global treaty on tobacco control. However, one of the framers of that tobacco convention says reductions in smoking and deaths caused by tobacco use are achievable.

An estimated 740 million adults worldwide use tobacco daily. Since 1980, there has been a 41 percent rise in the number of men who smoke regularly and a 7 percent increase among women.

A woman smokes a cigarette in Washington, D.C. (photo by Diaa Bekheet)

A woman smokes a cigarette in Washington, D.C. (photo by Diaa Bekheet)

In 2005, the World Health Organization adopted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an international treaty calling on countries to take measures to discourage tobacco use.

Some 180 countries are signatories, and where there are strong anti-smoking laws, evidence shows tobacco use goes down, according to Laurent Huber, the executive director of Action on Smoking and Health. Huber led non-governmental organizations in helping to put together the framework.

France is an example of the impact of anti-tobacco measures. Huber points to the country’s adoption of a stiff tax on cigarettes.

He says the tax slashed cigarette smoking nearly in half. But it went up again - by 7 percent – between 2014 and 2015 when the country failed to adjust the tax to keep pace with inflation.

“It’s not as people sometimes ask, is this about banning or making the product illegal? That’s not what it’s about ,” Huber said. "It’s about regulating the product so we can avoid the large public health impact it has and decrease prevalence of smoking to very low levels.”

Tobacco kills 6 million people a year, says Huber, and 1 billion people are projected to die by the end of the century.

The World Health Assembly via the NCD Global Action Plan has set a goal of reducing cigarette smoking by 30 percent from 2010 levels by the year 2025.

Other anti-smoking actions that have met with success include banning cigarette use in public places and graphic images printed on cigarette packs.

Huber says the pictures, showing the health effects of cigarette smoking, are most effective in impoverished areas.

“They are better understood and there’s more impact in jurisdictions where you have also an illiterate population,” Huber said.

More than 80 countries require cigarette packs to display graphic images. But in some countries, like India, factions influenced by big tobacco companies are fighting back and it’s hard to get anti-smoking measures enacted.

Huber is optimistic that the target to reduce cigarette smoking worldwide will be met.

Currently, there are no sanctions to enforce the goal of the international tobacco treaty. But Huber says that’s the next step - to encourage compliance with the global campaign to end smoking.