By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 1 2023 – The US has some of the strictest laws against smoking in public, including a 1997 executive order which bans smoking in all government federal buildings.
But still, the tobacco industry and its allies do not rest, says Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, Director of the Washington-based Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
Currently, they “spread a lot of misleading information that promotes, especially among young people, the use of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products”, he said, on the eve of World No Tobacco Day May 31.
According to PAHO, while the percentage of the population using tobacco in the Americas declined from 28% to 16.3% between 2000 and 2020, novel products and misleading information from the tobacco industry, especially targeting young people, threaten to undo those gains.
“Although eight countries in the region have banned the marketing of e-cigarettes and four of heated tobacco products, we are concerned that 14 countries have not yet taken any regulatory action in this regard,” he pointed out.
According to the latest statistics from PAHO, tobacco-use kills one million people per year in the Americas, one every 34 seconds.
In addition, 15% of cardiovascular disease deaths, 24% deaths from cancer and 45% of deaths from chronic respiratory diseases are attributable to tobacco use. In the region, 11% of young people use tobacco.
E-cigarettes are the most common form of electronic nicotine delivery. Their emissions contain nicotine and other toxic substances that are harmful to both users and those exposed to them.
To address the growing health threat posed by these products, the PAHO Director has called on countries to implement policies to prevent their use, especially among young people, as they can become the gateway to regular tobacco consumption.
Mary Assunta, Senior Policy Advisor, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, told IPS about 40 countries in the world have banned e-cigarettes while 70 countries which allow them have instituted restrictions on sales. For example, 36 countries regulate the amount (concentration/volume) of nicotine in e-liquids.
She said New Zealand, the Philippines and England, where e-cigarettes are sold more as recreational products, are facing a big problem with teenage vapers.
The Australian government has just announced a slew of strong measures to strictly regulate e-cigarettes after misinformation on the health effects of vaping helped hook children and young people.
E-cigarettes are meant to be sold by prescription only in Australia, said Assunta.
Yolonda Richardson, Executive Vice President of the Washington-based, Global Programs of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said this World No Tobacco Day, the WHO is calling for action against the tobacco industry’s human and environmental toll.
“Harming human and environmental health is pivotal to the business model of multinational tobacco companies like Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco. Millions of people die every year due to Big Tobacco’s profit-over-people model”.
She said low- and middle-income countries increasingly feel this burden, with 80 percent of tobacco-related deaths from diseases such as cancer, lung disease and heart disease projected to be in such countries by 2030. And the tobacco industry traps farmers with unsustainable crops and appropriates arable land to grow tobacco used for deadly products.
On this year’s World No Tobacco Day, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids joins the WHO in calling on governments to stand up to the tobacco industry’s exploitative practices and the devastating impacts of its deadly products.
One in 10 adult deaths around the globe are due to tobacco use. By holding the industry accountable and through the implementation of proven tobacco control measures, we have the power to protect future generations from tobacco-related death and disease, she noted.
“It is critical that governments act with urgency to address tobacco’s burden by passing the proven tobacco control interventions contained in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” said Richardson.
Without urgent action, tobacco use will kill one billion people this century, lock tobacco farmers into a lifetime of poverty, and cause continued harm to the environment, she declared.
The United Nations which banned smoking in its 38-storyed Secretariat building in New York, back in 2016, says smoking is one of the biggest public health threats in the world today, killing millions of people from lung cancer, heart disease and other diseases.
All delegates, staffers and visitors to UN Headquarters are reminded of the strict no smoking policy mandated by the General Assembly in its resolution A/RES/63/8 and stipulated in ST/SGB/2003/9.
A designated exterior smoking area is available in the South Garden and signs showing the shortest route from the Secretariat lobby and the General Assembly and Conference Building main areas have been posted.
Since the entry into force of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005, says PAHO, the region has made great strides in tobacco prevention and control. Currently, 96% of the population in 35 countries in the region is protected by at least one of the six recommended tobacco control measures.
In 2020, South America became the first 100% smoke-free sub-region – where there is a total ban on smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces, and on public transport.
Mexico also adopted the 100% smoke-free environment policy by the end of 2021 and banned all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. As a result, 63% of the population of the Americas – or more than 600 million people – are now protected from exposure to tobacco smoke.
In addition, in 2022, Paraguay ratified the Protocol to Eliminate the Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, which will boost regional efforts in this area.
“These achievements allow us to be confident that the region of the Americas will reach the target of a 30% reduction in the prevalence of tobacco use in those over 15 years of age by 2025, established in the WHO’s Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases,” Dr. Barbosa said.
But to expedite progress, the PAHO Director considered it “urgent to accelerate efforts to implement key measures that have fallen behind, including tax increases, a total ban on the advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco-products, and the adoption of mechanisms to manage conflicts of interest.”
• World No Tobacco Day – May 31, 2023
• WHO urges governments to stop subsidizing life-threatening tobacco crops
• Tobacco Control – PAHO
• Tobacco: E-cigarettes
• WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
• Report on Tobacco Control in the Region of the Americas 2022 (In Spanish)
IPS UN Bureau Report