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Tobacco use still a silent epidemic

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Cigarette sales must decline at a faster rate to end smoking in this generation. FILE PHOTO | NM

Summary

  • Cigarette sales must decline at a faster rate to end smoking in this generation.
  • More than 80 percent of smokers live in low and middle-income countries and numbers are increasing due to population growth and industry marketing.
  • Overall, the Index finds that progress on tobacco harm reduction is extremely limited.

Virtual conferences seem to be a trend that will stick around post-covid-19. Some are so well organised that delegates don't feel they miss a lot by not attending in person. One of them was the Global Tobacco & Nicotine Forum 2020, which brings together public health experts, government representatives, investors, and members of the tobacco/nicotine industries to exchange views and ideas.

The forum, in its 11th year, seeks to deepen the conversation about tobacco, nicotine and public health leading to more informed decisions by stakeholders on transformation away from high-risk products.

One panelist had an interesting view about a Covid-19 strategy used to control public behaviour mimicking that used in tobacco control. In Australia's Queensland State, the state government is fighting vapor smoking through opening a toll-free reporting line on violators.

In New Zealand, early this month, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters appeared to smoke in front of a no-smoking sign in a video recorded by a member of the public and it became national news.

So as the world battles with the Covid-19 pandemic, the tobacco global epidemic remains alive and claims more lives. Tobacco use claims eight million lives every year from the more than one billion smokers in the world. One hundred million people died from tobacco use in the 20th Century and it’s estimated that it could claim one billion by the end of the 21st Century if the current trends continue.

Smoking is estimated to cause about $1.4 billion in economic damage. The cost associated with tobacco-related illness is extremely high, with total economic costs associated with smoking representing 1.8 percent of global GDP and smoking-attributable health expenditure represents 5.7 percent of total health spending.

The World Health Organization projects that it will be many decades till we see smoking rates go down, which means the world will continue to see more deaths of tobacco users and its economic damage.

Now the Foundation for Smoke-free World, a non-profit organisation committed to reducing deaths and disease caused by smoking and end smoking in this generation, has come up with the Tobacco Transformation Index whose goal is to accelerate the necessary transformation of global tobacco industry and reduction of harm caused by tobacco use.

The Index is managed by Euromonitor International and ranks the world's 15 largest tobacco companies which account for approximately 90 percent of global cigarette volumes and assesses their activities including; phasing out high-risk tobacco products, developing and offering reduced-risk alternatives to support current users to move away from high-risk products, preventing access and marketing of such alternatives to all non-smokers and non-users of high-risk products especially the youth, and ensuring consistency of tobacco harm reduction activities across all markets of operation within regulatory guidelines.

Cigarette sales must decline at a faster rate to end smoking in this generation. More than 80 percent of smokers live in low and middle-income countries and numbers are increasing due to population growth and industry marketing. Overall, the Index finds that progress on tobacco harm reduction is extremely limited.

Some companies have made public commitments, but none have shifted their focus enough to ensure the accelerated decline of high-risk products. Interestingly, most companies continue to set targets to increase sales of high-risk products and are spending on marketing high-risk products encouraging consumption and undermining tobacco harm reduction.

Tobacco companies are focusing most of their reduced-risk product efforts on high-income countries who have only 20 percent of global tobacco consumers when 80 percent are in the low and middle-income countries