World No Tobacco Day 2005: rationale
The Tobacco Free Initiative proposes that World No Tobacco Day 2005 focus on Health Professionals and Tobacco Control. The explanation of this rationale follows:
In May 2003, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) was adopted. One year later, at the end of the signature period -29 June 2004- the treaty had been signed by 168 countries and the European Community, and had more than half the number of Party States needed for its entry into force. The good response that the WHO FCTC has received from the civil society and governments is proven by the number of NGOs involved in the WHO FCTC process, the number of tobacco control programmes currently in place around the world, and the number of signatories and parties the Treaty has achieved one year after its adoption.
The WHO Member States with their response to the Treaty have shown their firm commitment to tackle the public health challenges posed by tobacco. The Treaty outlines in its provisions the measures that countries need to take to achieve its objectives. Issues as diverse as price and tax measures, cross-border smuggling, illicit trade, advertising and promotion need to be tackled by governments when designing their tobacco control programmes.
When governments are getting ready for the full implementation of the Treaty, a continued support from the civil society is fundamental. The WHO FCTC in its preamble especially emphasizes ‘the special contribution of nongovernmental organizations and other members of civil society not affiliated with the tobacco industry, including health professional bodies, women’s, youth , environmental and consumer groups, and academic and health care institutions, to tobacco control efforts nationally and internationally and the vital importance of their participation national and international tobacco control efforts’ (WHO FCTC, 2003).
Tobacco control and health professionals
Following the WHO FCTC preamble, WHO convened a meeting in January 2004 with International Health Professionals Organizations' representatives to explore ways in which Health Professionals could participate more actively in the WHO FCTC process and how they could contribute to tobacco control/public health goals. Health Professionals include not only medical doctors, but also other professionals, like nurses, dentists, midwives, psychologists and psychiatrists, physicists, pharmacists and other health related professions.
Comprehensive tobacco programmes aimed at controlling the use of tobacco efficiently should consider to put in place a mix of measures at country and international level. This mix of measures should include legislation and pricing measures, but also prevention -through education, communication, informational campaigns that raise awareness of the effects of tobacco on health- and other demand reduction measures concerning tobacco dependence and cessation.
Health Professionals have a fundamental role to play in these ambits. They reach a high percentage of the population. Health Professionals have the opportunity to help people change their behaviour and they can give advice, guidance and answers to questions related to the consequences of tobacco use, they can help patients to stop smoking –especially those patients who have tobacco-related illnesses.
Studies have shown that even brief counseling by Health Professionals on the dangers of smoking and the importance of quitting is one of the most cost-effective methods of reducing smoking.
Health Professionals should also play a predominant role in preventive measures, especially when considering the youth. They have the opportunity to promote social norm change, and forewarn children and adolescents of the dangers of tobacco.
Health Professionals should be the example that a healthy society reflects upon. Many associations and establishments have started -and should continue- to designate their own workplaces as smoke- and tobacco-free. Health Professionals students that are trained on tobacco control during their educational years become more efficient at identifying and treating patients in tobacco-related issues, and are able to act as informers that can prevent tobacco use and can support their patients cessation efforts. Adding tobacco control as a part of the training and education programme of all health professionals can result, ultimately, in a drastic reduction of smoking prevalence.
At the legislative level, Health Professionals can use their influence in their local and national communities to encourage preventive tobacco control measures to be put in place at country and at international level.
WHO is convinced that tobacco control efforts are more likely to be sustained when incorporated into existing national, state and district level health structures and linked with existing positions and accountability processes. Involvement of the governmental health sector is expected to increase awareness among health personnel and contribute to the development of sustainable tobacco control programmes at the country level. Such a systematic approach will also pave the way for multi-sectoral acceptance of tobacco control efforts in countries.