Message of the regional director, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, on the occasion of world no tobacco day, 31 May 2017


Every year on 31st May, we commemorate World No Tobacco Day to raise awareness on health and additional risks and dangers associated with tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke. The theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day is "Tobacco – a threat to development." Tobacco use is a major barrier to sustainable development, with widespread impacts on health, poverty, global hunger, economic growth, gender equality, environment, education, finance and governance.

Globally, tobacco kills more than 7.2 million people per year, with over 80% from low- or middle-income countries. In the African Region, about 146 000 adults aged 30 years and above die every year from tobacco-related diseases. Up to half of all tobacco users will die prematurely from tobacco-related causes, and on average, tobacco users lose 15 years of life. This makes tobacco use one of the leading preventable risk factors for non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic lung diseases and diabetes. It is a threat to any person, regardless of gender, age, race, cultural or educational background.

For the African Region, the cost of healthcare from tobacco smoking is 3.5% of total health expenditure each year. It brings suffering, diseases and premature death and impoverishes families. It imposes a heavy economic burden on national economies through increased healthcare costs and decreased productivity. Tobacco use worsens health inequalities and exacerbates poverty, as the poorest people spend less on essentials such as food, education and health care. The tobacco industry is also increasingly targeting women and girls.

In addition, growing tobacco diverts agricultural land that could otherwise be used for food, impacting on food insecurity and undernutrition. The top five tobacco leaf-producing countries in the African Region suffer from undernourishment, and tobacco cultivation co-exists alongside undernourishment rates that range from 20% to 43%. Tobacco impacts the environment as well, through tobacco smoke, litter, fires and deforestation leading to climate change. Growing and producing tobacco in itself is also dangerous to health. Women bear most of the work on tobacco farms and children of tobacco-growing families are involved in child labor exposing them to green tobacco sickness and health hazards from pesticides, and smoke and tobacco dust inhalation.

Tobacco control is a unique and cost-effective solution to these challenges. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco (WHO FCTC) is the world’s most powerful tool to tackle tobacco’s negative impact on development. In particular, increasing tobacco taxes and prices are proven and effective ways to reduce demand for tobacco by reducing its affordability. This discourages consumption, improves the health of people and communities and reduces the burden of disease and death.

Control of illicit trade in tobacco products is also a key policy to reduce tobacco use and its health and economic consequences. Other measures, such as supporting economically viable alternatives to tobacco production and restricting youth access to tobacco products, can be effective, especially as part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce tobacco use.

All countries benefit from successfully controlling the tobacco epidemic, by protecting their populations from the harms of tobacco use and reducing its toll on national economies. The aim of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to ensure that "no one is left behind." Tobacco control is seen as one of the most effective means to achieve SDG target 3.4 of a one-third reduction, by 2030, of premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases.

Today, as we observe World No Tobacco Day 2017, I call upon Member States to include tobacco control in their national policies, plans and SDG implementation frameworks. Countries should fully implement the WHO FCTC, including raising tobacco taxes to reduce demand for tobacco. The revenue generated for governments can be used to finance universal health coverage, health promotion as well as other development programmes.

I urge individuals to help make a sustainable, tobacco-free world, either by never using tobacco products, or by quitting the habit. Protect your health and that of people exposed to second-hand smoke, including children, other family members and friends.

Tobacco control can break the cycle of poverty, contribute to ending hunger, promote sustainable agriculture and economic growth, and combat climate change. Let us all support tobacco control to save lives, uplift development and reduce health inequalities.