Statement made at the launch of the WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2008
Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization
Mayor Bloomberg, ladies and gentlemen,
I am speaking to you as the head of an agency described by the tobacco industry as its biggest enemy. Today, we intend to enhance that reputation.
The "WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic" is the most comprehensive collection of data on tobacco use and control measures ever assembled at the global level. It provides a benchmark for now and a roadmap for the future.
The standardized country-by-country statistics tell us where we stand. The tobacco epidemic is growing. It is shifting towards developing countries, with tobacco use growing fastest in low-income countries.
The rise of tobacco use in girls and young women is among the most ominous of recent trends.
The report pinpoints the factors behind these trends: the low price of tobacco products, aggressive marketing, lack of awareness about the dangers, and inconsistent public policies to protect citizens.
The report also provides a roadmap, which we call mPOWER. It sets out a package of five cost-effective policy measures selected because of their proven power to reduce tobacco use. These are straightforward common-sense measures within the reach of every country, regardless of income level.
Among them, increasing the price of tobacco through higher taxes is the single most effective way to decrease consumption and encourage tobacco users to quit. This measure can also operate as a sustainable funding mechanism for governments to continue their efforts in tobacco control.
I would argue that these measures are the silver bullets of preventive medicine. Their power to prevent disease and death matches that of breakthrough drugs.
These measures work. The importance of their impact reflects the magnitude of harm caused by tobacco. I am referring to more than five million annual deaths globally, a figure that is expected to surpass 8 million by 2030.
By that year, 80% of these deaths will be occurring in the developing world. As a global community, we cannot allow this to happen.
The tobacco epidemic is entirely man-made, and it can be turned around through the concerted efforts of governments and civil society.
Having said that, I want to remind governments in every country of the range and force of counter-tactics used by the tobacco industry – an industry that has much money and no qualms about using it in the most devious ways imaginable.
We have another powerful signal that the measures set out in the report are effective. The tobacco industry has fought tooth and nail to prevent or delay the introduction of each one.
Industry does not want higher taxes. Industry does not want graphic images on packs. Industry does not want bans on smoking in public places, bans on advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, or help for the majority of smokers who want to quit.
Industry knows very well that these measures cut tobacco consumption and shrink markets. That is exactly why we are recommending them.
We are at the starting point with this roadmap. As the report reveals, only 5% of the world population lives in countries that have fully implemented any one of the key measures for reducing demand.
This gives you an idea of the potential we have to shrink tobacco markets, prevent disease, and save several million lives.
This is the kind of change WHO and its partners aim to fuel by issuing this report.