World No Tobacco Day 2018

Message from Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region on the occasion of World No Tobacco Day 2018

On 31 May each year WHO and its partners mark World No Tobacco Day – a day on which we highlight the catastrophic impact tobacco has on health and development and advocate for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption.

Following decades of activism and awareness-raising the evils of tobacco use are well known. Among other life-threatening diseases, tobacco use causes lung cancer, respiratory disease and cancer of the mouth and esophagus. It is also proven to reduce fertility. Across the WHO South-East Asia Region tobacco use is responsible for the death of around 1.6 million people annually, and threatens the sustainable development of whole communities and countries.

Importantly, and as the theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day highlights, tobacco use is also the second leading cause of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) such as stroke and heart attack. CVDs are the leading cause of death worldwide, and kill almost 4 million people in the South-East Asia Region every year. The fact that our Region has around 246 million smokers and 290 million smokeless tobacco users contributes to the Region’s substantial CVD burden, with tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke accounting for up to one-fifth of overall CVD deaths.

The weight of this burden – as with all tobacco-caused deaths – represents a tragedy that is 100% preventable. Notably, it is a burden we must overcome if we are to achieve the Region-wide target and Flagship Priority of reducing premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) by 25% by the year 2025, and then achieve the Sustainable Development Goal target of reducing the same by one-third by 2030.

As outlined in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and its MPOWER package, we know what needs to be done.

First, tobacco use must be monitored and the efficacy of control measures regularly assessed and revised. Second, people must be protected from tobacco smoke: Second-hand smoke is a proven cause of cardiovascular disease, alongside tobacco’s many adverse health effects. Third, assistance to help tobacco users quit should be provided, including via evidence-based measures such as brief counselling advice that can be integrated into primary health care, as well as toll-free quit-lines among other key initiatives. Fourth, tobacco packaging should carry graphic warnings of tobacco’s health risks, as well as the risks of exposure to second-hand smoke. Fifth, bans on direct and indirect tobacco advertising must be comprehensive and strictly enforced, including at points of sale. And finally, taxes on all tobacco products should be raised to incentivize users to quit and prevent youth from adopting the habit.

Crucially, we must ensure the Region’s tobacco epidemic does not continue for yet another generation; we must ensure that health, sustainable development and the achievement of our NCD targets win-out.

This World No Tobacco Day let us reflect on tobacco’s deadly impact. Let us act on the means we have to control its use and save millions of lives in the process. And let us understand that controlling tobacco is key to achieving our 2025 and 2030 targets on reducing premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases, including the most prevalent of all – cardiovascular diseases.

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh
Regional Director