Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI)

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

Question: What is the basis of your optimism that a significant dent can be made in the tobacco epidemic?

Answer: We have formidable tools with which to resist. Foremost is the WHO Framework Convention, and its guidelines, which provide the foundation for countries to implement and manage tobacco control.

To help the Parties meet their commitments under the treaty, WHO provides them with technical assistance, including the MPOWER package of measures, which WHO introduced in 2008.

Not to be underestimated is the great momentum that tobacco control efforts have gained in recent years. In some respects, the fight against tobacco has only just begun. Political will is increasing – not fast enough, but the trend is positive. Although tobacco control efforts remain underfunded, more money is being made available, much of it from such private sources as Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. New partnerships are being formed and old ones reenergised. Believing that you cannot treat what you do not measure, WHO and its partners are improving their monitoring of the epidemic. Empowered with data from such sources as the WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2009, the reports of Parties to the WHO Framework Convention and the Global Tobacco Surveillance System, governments can tailor appropriate tobacco-control policies.

Awareness is growing, too, that tobacco use imposes a huge burden on society. Tobacco use is a risk factor for six of the eight leading causes of death, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and tuberculosis. It is the leading cause of preventable death. It breeds poverty and stifles economic development. Primary wage-earners who die in middle age of a tobacco-related heart attack or brain stroke squander their economic potential and leave their families without means to buy food, clothing, shelter, education and health care. Money spent on tobacco is money not spent on these basic necessities.

All that said, we know that the challenge is huge and that success is not guaranteed. We need to work better and smarter to achieve our long-term goals.