The World Health Organization (WHO) states that a billion deaths can be prevented in this century, if governments act now to reduce tobacco use.

In a call for action ahead of World No-Tobacco Day, which is on Tuesday May 31, WHO has urged governments around the world to accelerate the implementation of laws against tobacco use.

WHO has selected “The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control” (FCTC) as the theme for this year’s World No-Tobacco Day. The FCTC is an international treaty which requires governments to raise tobacco taxes, ban tobacco advertising, make public places smoke-free, control the smuggling of tobacco products and reduce tobacco company interference with tobacco control policies.

The FCTC is one of the most rapidly and widely embraced treaties in the history of the United Nations, with more than 170 Parties including South Africa.

Having killed a million people during the 20th century, tobacco use could kill 1 billion during the 21st century. “Lifestyle-related diseases stemming from tobacco, alcohol and obesity, have overtaken infectious diseases such as HIV and malaria to become the greatest killer of people worldwide”, says the head of WHO, Dr Margaret Chan.

“We know how to prevent the needless death and suffering caused by tobacco”, Dr Yussuf Saloojee of the National Council Against Smoking said. “Since 1994 the number of people smoking in South Africa has fallen by over 20%. These numbers echo the trends in other countries like Sweden, the UK, the US, and Thailand, which have also adopted progressive tobacco control measures.”
“On the other hand, the tobacco epidemic is spreading in many African and other low-income countries where governments have failed to take action. Because of this, the numbers of people dying from cancer, heart attacks and lung diseases are expected to increase from the current 6 million to 8 million deaths annually in the next two decades” Saloojee added.

“People often mistakenly think tobacco use is no longer an issue in South Africa. Whilst we have made significant progress in reducing smoking, the reality is that we still have a long way to go. The government needs to better protect non-smokers by getting rid of indoor smoking areas and making public places 100% smoke-free. We also need to catch up with the rest of the world by putting pictures showing the harms of tobacco on the packaging. The excise tax rates in South Africa are also very low compared to other countries and should be increased.”

The FCTC also requires governments to protect their policies from tobacco industry interference. Tobacco control efforts in South Africa are hindered and undermined by the tobacco industry. Only last week the North Gauteng High Court dismissed a case brought by British American Tobacco South Africa (Batsa) challenging the constitutionality of the ban on tobacco advertising. The court affirmed that the right of children to grow up free from commercial pressure to use a deadly product is more important than the industries right to glamourise addiction through advertising.

Also last week, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ordered Batsa to withdraw its huge advertising campaign against illicit cigarettes. The ASA ruled that the violent imagery and wording used in the campaign to link illegal cigarettes to hijacking and drug dealing was not justified, as Batsa did not provide sufficient evidence to support the claims it made in the advertising. The ASA did not rule on complaints that the Batsa campaign was advertising cigarettes by promoting the message that illegal cigarettes are bad, legal cigarettes are good, so smoke Batsa’s brands.

“Today, many of the threats to health that contribute to noncommunicable diseases come from corporations that are big, rich and powerful, driven by commercial interests and far less friendly to health,” says Dr Chan.
Smokers can participate in World No Tobacco Day by quitting tobacco on that day and non-smokers can help a friend or family member quit.
Free help in stopping smoking is available on the Quit Line: 011 720 3145

For further Information Contact
Dr. Yussuf Saloojee: Executive Director, 011 725 1514 or 076 633 5322
Mr. Peter Ucko: Director, 082 454 9889
Linah Ledwaba: Communications Specialist, 076 358 9273