Message of the Regional Director, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, on the occasion of World No Tobacco Day, 31 May 2019

Today we commemorate World No Tobacco Day to broadcast greater awareness of the dangers associated with tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke. We also use this moment to advocate for stronger policies on tobacco control. This year’s theme, “Tobacco and Lung Health”, focuses on the negative impacts that tobacco has on our lungs and what can be done to reduce the tobacco-related risks to lung health.

Tobacco smoke is dangerous – it contains more than 7 000 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. Tobacco affects the lungs in multiple ways. Smoking is the primary cause for lung cancer, responsible for more than two thirds of lung cancer deaths. In 2018, a total of 39 353 new cases of lung cancer were diagnosed in Africa and 37 748 deaths occurred.

There is good news, though.  People who quit smoking reduce their risk of lung cancer by 50% after only 10 years.

Tobacco smoking is also the leading cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which results in a painful cough and agonizing breathing difficulties. The risk of developing the disease is high among individuals who start smoking at a young age because tobacco smoke significantly slows lung development. Tobacco also exacerbates asthma, which restricts activity and contributes to disability.

Children are at great risk: Exposure to tobacco smoke toxins in-utero reduces lung growth and function. Young children exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke can develop pneumonia, bronchitis and lower respiratory infections. Around 165 000 children worldwide die before the age of 5 years because of lower respiratory infections caused by second-hand tobacco smoke.

Our lungs are fundamental to our health and well-being. We shouldn’t let tobacco take our breath away. Let us choose good health, not tobacco.

The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. Tobacco kills up to half of its users. The most effective way to improve lung health is to reduce tobacco use and second-hand tobacco smoke exposure. We need to embrace the proven health benefits of stopping tobacco use as well as the feasible actions that the public and governments can take to reduce the risks to lung health posed by tobacco.

Member States should respond to the tobacco epidemic by fully implementing the provisions of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Treatment of tobacco dependence should be part of a comprehensive tobacco control policy along with the establishment of smoke-free public places, health warnings on tobacco packages and a ban of tobacco advertising. In addition to an individual approach, including behavioural and/or pharmacological interventions, a supportive environment is needed to encourage tobacco consumers to quit.

I urge governments to adopt and enforce tobacco-control policies aimed at reducing the demand for tobacco; promoting tobacco cessation; and adequately treating tobacco dependence. This should encompass educational institutions, health care facilities, workplaces and sporting environments.

WHO will continue to promote and strengthen awareness of the benefits of tobacco-free lifestyles and the cessation of tobacco use.

I also call upon all individuals, parents and their children, as well as other community members, to protect their health and avoid the harms caused by tobacco. Let us promote non-smoking as a social norm and by ensuring smoke-free environments.

Thank you.