WASHINGTON, United States, Tuesday September 11, 2018 – While progress has been made to address the tobacco epidemic in the Americas, over one-third of countries in the region has yet to implement the highest level of effective tobacco control measures.
And a new Regional Report on Tobacco Control in the Americas 2018 from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says governments must urgently increase efforts to apply these measures and save lives.
The number of tobacco users in the region has dropped to just 17 per cent, which is below the global average of 20 per cent. However, this means that one in every five adults above the age of 15 still uses tobacco, one of the main causes of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Countries have committed to implementing measures to reduce premature mortality from these diseases by one-third by 2030, in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals. PAHO’s report highlights that it is vital that countries step up efforts to increase tobacco control measures in order to meet this objective.
“While we are certainly heading in the right direction when it comes to reducing the number of tobacco users and protecting the population from the adverse effects of tobacco exposure, we are just not moving fast enough,” said Dr. Anselm Hennis, Director of the Department of Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health at PAHO.
“The fact remains that more than two thousand people die each day in the Americas as a direct consequence of tobacco use and this epidemic will continue unless countries accelerate the speed at which effective policies are being implemented.”
The new report highlights progress that countries in the Americas have made towards implementing the measures outlined in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which aims to protect present and future generations from the devastating consequences of tobacco use and exposure. These measures include regulations to protect people from tobacco smoke by establishing 100 per cent smoke-free environments; the mandatory inclusion of large, graphic health warnings on all tobacco packaging; raising taxes on tobacco; and a total ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
One of the main areas of progress in the last two years outlined in the report occurred in the Caribbean, although it remains the sub-region with the lowest number of countries to have implemented the measures outlined in the WHO FCTC.
Guyana was highlighted due to the passing of its comprehensive tobacco control law in 2017. This law now positions the country among the most compliant in three areas: protecting people from tobacco smoke; bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and mandatory large graphic health warnings on all tobacco packaging. Saint Lucia and Barbados are following suit with the approval of measures to include mandatory health warnings on tobacco product packaging.
“We welcome recent efforts from the Caribbean to begin the implementation of effective tobacco control measures and we hope this will show other countries in the sub-region the long-term benefits that measures will have on their economies and, most importantly, the health of their populations,” said Dr. Hennis.
The report highlights interference from the tobacco industry as an ongoing threat to the swift and effective implementation of tobacco control measures, as is the availability of new tobacco products on the market, which are widely and aggressively advertised to potential new consumers.
“It is vital that the region renews its commitment to overcoming these challenges,” said Dr. Hennis. “South-south cooperation must be strengthened in order to share best practices, and more regional studies must be carried out so that we can be better informed as to what works best in the region’s ongoing efforts on tobacco control.