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Wednesday, March 29, 2017
- The numbers are in, and there’s not much to celebrate: every year, about six million people die as a result of tobacco use, including 600,000 who succumb to the effects of second-hand smoke.
Whether consumed by smoking or through other means, tobacco is a deadly business, and while usage statistics vary drastically across countries, time periods and age-groups, one thing is plain to policy makers all over the world: tobacco is going to be a huge development challenge in the coming decade.
Already the global burden of NCDs is tremendous, accounting for the most number of deaths worldwide. Some 36 million die annually from NCDs, representing 63 percent of global deaths. Of these, more than 14 million people die prematurely, before the age of 70.
In a bid to stem this rampant loss of life, governments all over the world have signed numerous treaties and protocols, including the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which presently boasts 180 states parties covering 90 percent of the world’s population.
One of the convention’s goals is to achieve a 30-percent reduction in tobacco use among people aged 15 years and older by 2025.
By some calculations, the international community is moving slowly but surely towards this target. For instance, a new WHO study released last month found that in 2010 there were 3.9 billion non-smokers aged 15 years and over in WHO member states (or 78 percent of the population of 5.1 billion people over the age of 15).
The number of non-smokers is projected to rise to five billion (or 81 percent of the projected population of 6.1 billion people aged 15 and up) by 2025 if the current pace of tobacco cessation continues, the report said.
According to a study published last month by the UK-based medical journal, The Lancet, the prevalence of tobacco smoking among men fell in 125 out of 173 countries surveyed, and the smoking rate among women fell in 156 countries out of 178, in the 2000-2010 period.
But while these trends are positive, a closer look at the data shows that at current levels of progress, only 37 countries worldwide, or just 21 percent of all member states, stand ready to meet the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013-2020.
In fact, according to the WHO, there will be between 1.5 and 1.9 billion smokers worldwide in 2025, representing a potential health crisis of severe proportions.
Catching them young – killing them young?
Last month some 3,000 tobacco control advocates closed the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCOTH) here in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with appeals to world leaders to crack down on the tobacco industry’s campaign to lure young people into the habit.
Among other demands, activists and experts pressed governments to enforce bans on massive advertising campaigns, which many see as a gateway to what could become a lifetime of smoking.
In 2008, the WHO reported that 30 percent of young teens worldwide aged 13 to 16 smoke cigarettes, with between 80,000 and 100,000 children taking up the habit each day.
The organisation estimates that half of those who start smoking in their adolescent years will continue smoking for the next 15 to 20 years of their life, lending credibility to the widely held fear that when tobacco use starts young, life might also end young.
From the music and fashion industries to food and sports, the multi-billion-dollar tobacco industry is finding marketing and advertising opportunities to attract scores of potential young consumers, since their curiosity and tendency to experiment have long marked them as a key ‘target’ group.
“In tobacco and smoking, we see death and disease. The tobacco industry sees a marketplace,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a leading US-based tobacco control campaign organisation.
In a statement released back in January, Myers alleged, “The tobacco industry spends 8.8 billion dollars a year – one million dollars an hour – on marketing, much of it in ways that make these products appealing and accessible to children.”
“They also use all means – legal and illegal – to sell their deadly products, deceive the public and policy makers by attempting to appear credible and trustworthy, and use lawyers, lobbyists, and public relations firms to undermine good government and the will of the people,” Myers said during the WCOTH last month.
From rock concerts to sporting events and from cafes to nightclubs, where young people of a higher income bracket typically socialise, cigarettes are readily available, making it difficult to avoid the pull of peer pressure.
Experts say young women, especially those who are economically independent, also fall into the category of an emerging market for the tobacco industry, as they seek fresh outlets for expressing their newfound freedom.
Myers cited Russia, where 25 percent of young women between 18 and 30 years old have taken up the habit, and China, where the equating of cigarette smoking with high fashion is evident in the country’s major cities like Beijing and Shanghai.Neither Russia nor China is expected to meet the smoking component of the global NCD target by 2025.
Although Russia could witness a decrease in the number of smokers from 46.9 million in 2010 to 36.6 million in 2025, and China is slated to slash its smokers from 303.9 million in 2010 to 291 million in 2025, the rate of decrease in both countries is too low.
The situation is particularly dire in China, where an estimated 740 million suffer from exposure to second-hand smoke. The WHO estimates that 1.3 million die here each year from lung cancer, accounting for one-third of lung cancer-related deaths globally.
Judith Mackay, senior adviser of the World Lung Foundation, said Asian women in particular are being targeted by the industry because of the number of developing countries and fast-growing economies in the region with large young female populations.
“For developing countries in this region, the style of advertising in the 50s has come back – portraying smoking among young women as cool and sexy,” she said during a press conference in Abu Dhabi.
A 2010 report by the George Institute of Global Health stated that Asia and the Pacific were home to 30 percent of all smokers in the world, with India and China contributing hugely to these numbers.
In a bid to help member countries meet the smoking component of the NCD target, the WHO introduced a set of measures called MPOWER, encapsulating efforts to monitor tobacco use, protect people from tobacco smoke, offer help to those seeking to quit the habit, warn about the dangers of tobacco use, enforce bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and raise taxes on tobacco products.
Such measures will not be easily implemented but as WHO Director-General Margaret Chan pointed out, “It’s going to be a tough fight but we should not give up until […] the tobacco industry goes out of business.”
Edited by Kanya D’Almeida