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WHO Report Shows Progress on Tobacco Control in the Americas

More PAHO Member States ratify global tobacco treaty, pass new smoke-free laws

Washington, D.C., Dec. 9, 2009 (PAHO) - A new report shows that member countries of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) made progress last year in implementing new tobacco control measures that promise to save lives and reduce illnesses for years to come.

Colombia, Guatemala, and Panama were among only seven countries worldwide that implemented comprehensive smoke-free laws last year, according to the newly released Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2009 from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Four countries of the Americas-Nicaragua, Colombia, Costa Rica and Suriname-joined the 168 countries worldwide that have ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

This progress during 2008 means that an additional 60 million people in the Americas have protection against the harmful effects of second-hand smoke, and that three-quarters of PAHO Member States have now ratified the FCTC, signalling their intention to begin implementing tobacco control measures recommended by the treaty.    

"The wide endorsement of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in our Region shows there is clear political will for making tobacco control more comprehensive and more successful," said PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses. "Tobacco use is the major contributor to heart attacks, strokes, cancers, and other chronic diseases that are now epidemic in our countries. More and more countries recognize that tobacco control is a life-and-death matter."

Tobacco use continues to be the world's leading preventable cause of death, killing more than 5 million people per year globally and 1 million in the Americas. That annual death toll could rise to 8 million by 2030 if action is not taken, the report says. More than 80 percent of those deaths would occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Tobacco control experts say that preventing deaths and illness due to tobacco requires legal and policy frameworks that promote smoke-free environments and reduce demand for tobacco.

The 2009 WHO report describes efforts by different countries to implement a package of tobacco control measures called MPOWER, introduced by WHO in 2008 to help countries meet the goals of the FCTC. The MPOWER package proposes:

  • Monitoring of tobacco use and the policies to prevent it 
  • Protecting people from tobacco smoke 
  • Offering help for people to quit tobacco use
  • Warning the public about the dangers of tobacco 
  • Enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship 
  • Raising taxes on tobacco. 
"We can and should tell people that tobacco is bad for their health, but governments also need to do their part by implementing the FCTC," said Dr. Roses.

The report's other key findings on tobacco control developments in the Americas include:

  • Panama in 2008 became the first and only country in the Americas to implement a total ban on advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of tobacco. It is one of 26 countries worldwide that have done so. 
  • More than half (12 out of 22) of the world's major smoke-free cities are in the Americas. They include Mexico City, São Paulo, New York, Toronto, Bogotá and Rio de Janeiro.
  • Health warnings continue to be the most widely implemented tobacco control policy implemented in the Americas. Four countries-Brazil, Panama, Uruguay and Venezuela-meet FCTC "best practices" standards for health warnings on cigarette packaging. Canada, Chile and Peru also have strong health warnings (including graphic photos), while Mexico is slated to put such warnings into effect in 2010. Similar regulations are pending in Bolivia. 
  • In 2008, no new country in the Americas levied tobacco taxes higher than 75 percent of retail price. Chile, Cuba and Venezuela remain the only countries in the Region to have such taxes. 
  • Smoking rates (the percentage of adults who smoke daily) range from less than 5 percent to more than 30 percent in different countries of the Americas. Suriname, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador are among the countries with the lowest rates; Chile, Colombia and Uruguay are among those with higher rates.
Assessing changes in tobacco use in the Americas during 2008 was difficult because standardized, comparable prevalence data were not reported for 14 countries in the Region.

"You need to have comparable data across different survey periods to accurately monitor and evaluate the impact of different types of interventions," said Dr. Adriana Blanco, PAHO's regional advisor on tobacco control. "Better monitoring could provide critical evidence to bolster the case for stronger tobacco control."

Links of interest:

PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of the people of the Americas and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).

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