Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI)

WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2009: questions and answers

Question: Why was not there more progress against tobacco?

Answer: The tobacco industry and its allies remain rich and powerful, buying influence to undermine tobacco control efforts and spreading myths about tobacco control, such as that it infringes on "smokers' rights" and reduces tobacco's supposed economic benefits. Also, many countries lacked the capacity to fully address the tobacco epidemic. That is why WHO developed the MPOWER package of tobacco control measures: to give countries more of the technical and informational assistance they need to resist the industry, to reduce the demand for tobacco products and to move forward in implementing the WHO Framework Convention.

What we need now is more political will to implement the policies. More money is essential, too. Generally speaking, tobacco control efforts are seriously underfunded.

In any case, in a struggle of this size and complexity, most year-to-year changes are almost bound to be relatively small. Longer-term trends matter more.

Question: What is the outlook for tobacco control?

Answer: Again, if current trends persist, tobacco use could kill 8 million people per year by 2030 from the current more than 5 million people per year. But, actions by governments and society could blunt the tobacco epidemic's advance. We know what policies work to control tobacco. Again, more political will is essential.

That said, it is likely that, over time, WHO's surveillance of the tobacco epidemic will continue to show that more people are being protected from second-hand smoke, helped to quit and adequately warned about the dangers of tobacco use, and that more governments will implement and enforce total bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and require higher taxes at rates that would effectively deter significant numbers of people from using tobacco.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan's belief that "we hold in our hands the solution to the global tobacco epidemic" remains as true today as when she expressed it one year ago. Reversing the entirely preventable epidemic of tobacco must be a top public health priority.