Your Royal Highness, Your
excellencies, distinguished guests, dear friends,
We have gathered here today to celebrate life. Those of us who have
traveled some distance down life’s course know that it affords moments
of strife and struggle, but also of satisfaction and happiness.
Today is one of those moments. I am honoured to be part of the
celebrations in a country where better health is a key element of
government policy. Thank you for inviting me to share it with you.
Here at Sanam Luang, we are at the center of Thailand’s proud
history. Here, and in the streets around us, Thais have defended
democracy. Thailand is a proud and courageous country. Its fight against
tyranny and foreign domination is an inspiration to all.
This is also true when it comes to the fight against tobacco.
Thailand has a special place in this global struggle.
Ten years ago, Thailand responded forcefully against the demands of
an aggressive tobacco industry seeking new markets and new victims.
When you faced punitive trade sanctions, you set up the National
Committee for the Control of Tobacco Use. You launched a national
signature campaign that mobilized civil society and health advocates
across the country. You increased taxes, imposed advertising bans and
wrote laws to protect non-smokers and children. You have done all a
country can do to protect its population against the onslaught of
You have shown the world that where there is political will, there is
a way forward for public health.
The results are inspiring. Smoking among women and youth is down and
smoking prevalence dropped more than 3% from 1996 to a level of 20% in
1998. That means one million fewer smokers and thousands of lives saved.
Clean indoor air may not yet be a reality, but it has now entered the
Despite your success, Thailand knows better than anyone else that the
fight against tobacco never ends. Once they are in, the multinational
tobacco companies work ceaselessly to promote their products and to
block or subvert attempts at reducing tobacco consumption.
Other countries in the forefront of the struggle – Canada, Norway,
South Africa, the United States, Finland, to name a few – tell us the
same thing. The battle against big tobacco is never over. Just when
smoking rates seem to come under control, aggressive marketing tactics
aimed at women and adolescents are launched.
The tobacco industry has long ago realized that they cannot sell
their product on its own merits. After all, a cigarette is the only
freely available consumer product which kills through normal use. So the
industry has studied our central nervous system to determine the right
dose of nicotine to deliver addiction. And to attract new smokers, the
companies sell tobacco as a lifestyle. Youth, wild nature, sports, fresh
air – it is all used to camouflage tobacco’s deadly effects.
Tobacco is advertised in sports events, in discos, at pop concerts.
When direct advertising is banned, they use other ways to promote
tobacco and make their brands visible. They sell adventure clothes and
sports goods. They sponsor arts festivals. They make sure film stars
Tobacco is a communicated disease – communicated through marketing.
That is why we chose to focus this year’s World No Tobacco Day on
entertainment. We want the world to know how tobacco products are
directly and indirectly marketed through films, music and sports.
The tobacco industry looks for 11,000 new smokers every day to
replace those who die from tobacco. And they succeed. Every day, between
82,000 and 99,000 teenagers - even children – start smoking or chewing
Adults can choose for themselves, at least if they have full access
to information. Children and adolescents cannot. Over eighty percent of
smokers in many countries started before they were 18. By the time they
find out nicotine is addictive, it is too late.
On this day, as countries around the world celebrate World No Tobacco
Day, what better place than Thailand to say, "Tobacco Kills – Don’t
We know that the tobacco industry is a global force. We know that
national successes such as the Thai experience can be undone if they are
not globally underpinned. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is
just the kind of support countries need in their fight against a global
Thailand is one of a few countries that early on understood the
tobacco problem in all its dimensions – from the death and disease
burden to economics, trade and public policy. I hope and trust that
Thailand will play an important role in helping us craft the Framework
Convention on Tobacco Control.
Over the next few years, WHO will lead the negotiations towards a
convention that is strong, and effective, and that achieves our goal: to
limit the global reach of tobacco.
To succeed, we need the input of ministries of agriculture, trade,
education, finance and social affairs. A truly viable public health tool
has to be reflected in all those areas of governance and public policy
that have a direct bearing on people’s health. That search for health
is also a search for justice, equity and solidarity.
Many say: "why tobacco?" Why waste time on this while the
poor die from malaria, tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS?
The answer is simple: Tobacco kills one person every eight seconds.
That is four million deaths per year. Unless we act, that figure will
rise to 10 million deaths a year by 2030. Seventy percent of these
deaths will occur in the developing world. Unless we act, tobacco will
kill more people than malaria, tuberculosis and maternal and childhood
And remember: every tobacco-related death is preventable. That is our
message. That is our challenge. We can save millions of lives.
I am delighted that children in Thailand will launch a global
signature campaign urging decision-makers to put in place effective and
verifiable global bans on tobacco advertising.
This children’s campaign launched from Thailand comes at a time
when countries will be starting the difficult negotiations of the
Framework Convention against strong forces and enormous commercial
interest. We need your inspiration. We need your support.
Together, we will create a better world for our children.