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Press briefing on Tobacco and Health

Smoking versus Health, Choose Health!

Paramaribo, October 5, 2010, (PAHO/WHO Suriname) — Despite many awareness campaigns conducted on the use of tobacco and its products in the past, it, unfortunately, seems necessary to keep focusing public attention on the health risks involved with using these products. Tackling this problem not only demands a behavioral change on the part of the user but surely also involves a fight against the very powerful tobacco industry whereby measures at a global but also a national level are indispensable.   

The percentage of smokers reduced drastically in the more developed countries over the past years. In underdeveloped countries, however, tobacco consumption still shows an increase, also due to aggressive and misleading campaigns run by the tobacco industry and these are precisely the countries most poorly prepared for the consequences. Over 5 million people die worldwide annually as a cause of the use of tobacco products; this number exceeds the death rate due to HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB together. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2015, tobacco products will be responsible for 10% of all deaths in that year. In addition, tobacco products are the only products which are legal but at the same time, when used as indicated by the manufacturer, kills between a 33 – 50% of its users prematurely.

An important instrument for establishing the seriousness of the situation with regard to tobacco use are the so-called “global surveys” of PAHO / WHO which, due to their uniform design, not only offer the opportunity to gain insight into the situation in the country itself but also to compare this to the situation in other countries in the region and on global level. The intention is moreover to conduct the surveys with some regularity.

In 2009, Suriname conducted a number of these surveys, primarily aimed at tobacco use as well as a survey on about ten factors that could promote or harm ones health. The tobacco surveys are each aimed at a specific target group. In our country, the following groups were studied:

  • Students in health care, both medical and nursing students (Global Health Professional Student Survey) (2009)
  • School-going youth between 13-15 years (Global Youth Tobacco Survey) (2000, 2004 and 2009)
  • Teachers (Global School Personnel Survey) (2004 and 2009)

Since the two last-mentioned surveys were repeated it is possible to make a time comparison.
Tobacco is one of the factors studied in the GSHS. Obviously, these factors influence each other mutually. The other factors are dietary pattern; alcohol use; drug use; hygiene; mental health; physical activity; sexual behavior; physical violence and accidents.

The results of these studies shows that risk behavior among youth continues to be an issue of great concern and that, despite an increase in know-how and awareness on the dangers of tobacco among specific groups, the smoking behavior still fails to decline. Likewise, we see that  in 2009 less school-going youth reported to have smoked cigarettes (29.7%) compared to  2004 (37.4%) and in 2000 this was (48.3%). Also, in 2009, more respondents reported to smoke at home (46.9%) compared to 2000 (28.2%). For completeness’ sake, we refer to the respective fact sheets.

With this great treasure of information, our country now has the unique opportunity to make a start with an extensive tobacco control program of which an adequately set up surveillance system forms an important part.

Within the framework of the inauguration of the new office location of PAHO/WHO in Suriname, the Ministry of Health, in cooperation with PAHO, has organized an information meeting today on the subject. This meeting is especially aimed at the media with the purpose of getting this important social group on our side as allies in the fight against smoking.
The motto to support this effort is: Smoking versus Health, Choose Health!

The current status in Suriname will be discussed based on the results of the previously mentioned surveys. The interpretation of these figures in real terms is illustrated through a discussion of the negative consequences of tobacco on our health. Through establishment of the National Tobacco Control Board, the government has already made efforts in this regard. The tobacco control activities as well as current and future policy measures will be presented. It is a well-known fact that measures such as increasing the tax duty on tobacco products, banning advertising on smoking and prohibiting smoking in public facilities are among the most important health measures any country can take since these measures have already lead in other countries to a drastic reduction of the use of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

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