Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI)

Statement from Catherine Le Galès - Camus, Assistant Director-General - Non Communicable Diseases and Mental Health

31 May 2006

Photo of Catherine Le Gales - Camus

Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death globally, with 5 million deaths every year. Besides the human loss, there are heavy social and economic costs. It is the poor and the poorest who tend to smoke the most, and developing countries bear the highest burden.

This year the World Health Organization's World No Tobacco Day focus is "Tobacco: deadly in any form or disguise." Its aim is to raise awareness about the growing variety of tobacco products and the urgent need to regulate them all in view of mounting scientific evidence of their harmful effects. Every day we find new types of flavoured, "natural", "organic", roll-your-own cigarettes; a growing array of smokeless tobacco products; not to mention new tobacco products sold with harm-reduced claims. Meanwhile, consumption of conventional cigarettes and traditional tobacco products, such as bidis and kreteks, show no signs of slowing, while waterpipes are gaining wider acceptance around the world.

We are faced with a unique challenge in that tobacco products remain largely unregulated. The basic rules that apply to all other consumer goods in order to ensure that their safety has been tested and that ingredients or contents are disclosed, do not apply to tobacco products. This condition complicates our efforts to advance tobacco control measures that will have a positive, life-saving impact.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) is a powerful tool for dealing in concrete terms with this global public health challenge. To date, more than 125 countries have shown their support and committed to its implementation as Contracting Parties to the Convention. The first Conference of the Parties in February 2006 laid important groundwork towards the creation of regulatory guidelines for tobacco products.

We look now to the vital network of leaders, decision makers and healthcare professionals at the global, country and community levels: we will continue to work together towards improved tobacco control measures, such as smoking bans in public places, warning labels on packages, as well as stricter regulation of the growing range of tobacco products. Our shared goal is to reduce the number of people using tobacco in all its forms, which will result in public health gains for us all.

Join me on 31 May, World No Tobacco Day, to continue our actions towards a tobacco-free future.