Division of Health Promotion and Protection (HPP)
Developing Legislation for Tobacco Control
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In October 2000, PAHO Member States joined with other WHO Member States to begin negotiations on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a WHO-sponsored international treaty on tobacco control. If a strong FCTC is ratified by WHO Member States at the World Health Assembly in May 2003, as planned, the efforts by governments around the world to reduce the scourge of tobacco will have received a strong boost.
However, even independent of the FCTC process, the evidence accumulated over the past several decades makes a compelling case for the need for governments to regulate tobacco products. Tobacco products kill one-half of all longterm users, including more than one million people annually in the Americas. Half of those users will die before the age of 70. The vast majority of those addicted to tobacco became addicted as children or adolescents. And—as court cases, parliamentary and congressional investigations, and internal documents of the companies themselves show—the tobacco industry has engaged in a widespread, active campaign of consumer deception for over 50 years to ensure the longevity of its business at the expense of the longevity of its customers. It is difficult to imagine a more compelling case for consumer and health protection.
The most effective measures to reduce tobacco use are regulatory in nature. Ample evidence shows that policy measures—such as higher tobacco taxes, the elimination of tobacco promotion, strong health information on tobacco packages, and the mandatory implementation of smoke free environments in public places and workplaces—reduce youth smoking initiation and help smokers quit smoking.
While some countries may initially see these policies as being unachievable, it is important to consider the costs of inaction. A report released in April 2002 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that every pack of cigarettes sold in the US costs that country an estimated $7.18 in medical care costs and lost productivity, not to mention the 440,000 annual deaths caused by tobacco. The costs of tobacco use in lives—as well as in financial resources that could be redirected to a host of other pressing, less preventable health problems—are ones that no country can afford. This should provide the strength and political will needed for governments to act.
Regardless of the pace and outcome of the FCTC negotiations, PAHO urges governments to move their domestic legislative tobacco control agendas forward. We trust that the evidence compiled here will support them in doing so.
George A.O. Alleyne