Washington, DC, 18 July 2022 (PAHO) - From 12 to 14 July 2022, representatives of the Ministries of Health of PAHO Member States and relevant Ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs, as well as civil society organizations from Latin American and Caribbean countries, participated in a three-day, two-part hybrid event.
Tobacco use is responsible for more than 1 million deaths annually in the Region of the Americas. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and its guidelines provide a global answer for countries to implement and manage tobacco control policies as a response to the tobacco epidemic. In addition, the six cost-effective and high impact measures that make up the MPOWER package, contained in the WHO FCTC, are intended to assist in the country-level implementation of effective interventions to reduce the demand for tobacco.
As COVID-19 became increasingly urgent, it posed significant challenges for the tobacco control community, mainly because it was at the top of the political and legislative agendas of the countries in the region. However, this context also served to highlight the relevance of public health policies in the population and, among other things, showed how the consequences of these policies transcend the health sector. Unfortunately, this did not go unnoticed by the tobacco industry and its allies, that adapted to this context by taking advantage of the vulnerabilities and crisis scenarios faced by public health matters, to amplify their interference strategies and tactics.
This three-day event specifically addressed tobacco control achievements and challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in respect to national multisectoral coordinating mechanisms, comprehensive legal measures, countering tobacco industry interference, country-to-country technical cooperation and tobacco plain packaging. Further, the third day brought together a group of public officials from Ministries of Finance and Health of South America to discuss new evidence on tobacco taxes and illicit trade in tobacco products as well as share experiences on policy changes implemented during the pandemic.
This event was organized by PAHO in collaboration with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (the Union), and thanks to the financial assistance of the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use.
Click on the titles to display a summary of the discussions each day
12-13 July: Tobacco Control During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Americas: Lessons Learned and Opportunities
At the end of 2020, South America became the first sub-region to be 100% smoke-free, following legal measures adopted in Bolivia and Paraguay. By the end of 2021, Mexico adopted the same measure, resulting in 63% of the total population of the 35 PAHO Member States to be covered by this public health policy. Mexico also adopted a total ban on all forms of advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of tobacco products, increasing the number of countries that apply this policy at the highest level of achievement in the region to nine.
Other countries, such as Colombia (national coordination mechanism), Mexico (ban on commercialization of novel and emerging nicotine and tobacco products), Peru (periodic update of excise taxes), Saint Lucia (100% smoke-free environments), Paraguay and Venezuela (ratification of the Protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products) were able to make significant progress in implementing the MPOWER package and other measures established in the WHO FCTC. Countries like Jamaica (comprehensive tobacco control act bill) and Costa Rica (plain packaging) also moved forward with parliamentary discussions of tobacco control initiatives. It is also important to highlight Brazil’s leadership and the stability of their obtained achievements, despite new health priorities during this complex context, as the recent decision to maintain the ban on commercialization of novel and emerging nicotine and tobacco products.
While progress has been significant and should be highlighted, we must not lose sight of the fact that 17 years have passed since the WHO FCTC came into force, and 14 years since the launch of the MPOWER package.
This session was instrumental in opening discussion regarding the implementation status of the MPOWER package in the Americas as well lessons learned during the pandemic, through PAHO/WHO, Secretariat of the WHO FCTC, CTFK and The Union representatives delivering presentations and takeaways, as well as national authorities delegates sharing their country-level experiences.
While the health sector saw an opportunity to strengthen tobacco control legislation to further protect the lives of the already vulnerable population during the COVID-19 pandemic, the tobacco industry exploited these vulnerabilities too. It expanded its corporate social responsibility tactics and the market for its products, including novel and emerging tobacco and nicotine products such as heated tobacco products and electronic cigarettes. An international panel of civil society representatives shared their experiences, takeaways, and strategies in the region to tackle tobacco industry interference in a post-pandemic context.
In addition to discussing how to tackle tobacco industry interference and in the context of thinking on challenges that lie ahead in the post-pandemic, another international panel of Ministries of Health delegates presented one of the least implemented measures in the region: plain packaging. Delegates presented the cases of the only two countries in the region that have already implemented it (Canada and Uruguay) and one country that is on its way to adopting it (Panama).
Plain packaging is a significant measure to contribute to the reduction of the demand for tobacco products, related to articles 11 (packaging and labelling of tobacco products) and 13 (tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship) of the WHO FCTC, as it reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products, restricts use of the pack as a form of advertising and promotion, limits misleading packaging and increases the effectiveness of health warnings.
14 July: Third meeting of the intersectoral South American discussion group on the implementation of tobacco taxes and the elimination of illicit trade of tobacco products
Illicit trade of tobacco products poses a serious threat to public health because it increases access to – often cheaper – tobacco products, thus fueling the tobacco epidemic and undermining tobacco control policies. It also causes substantial losses in government revenues.
An allegedly not evidence-based increase in the illicit trade of tobacco products is often used as an argument by the tobacco industry to dissuade policymakers from strengthening tobacco control measures, including increasing taxes on tobacco products. This is a serious hurdle, especially considering that increasing tobacco taxation to reduce the affordability of tobacco products is the single most cost-effective measure to reduce tobacco consumption, and it remains underutilized in the region, being the least implemented measure of the MPOWER package.
This meeting focused on reviving the pre-pandemic work agenda, within the framework of the first face-to-face meeting, since the pandemic started, of the South American Intersectoral Group of Discussion on the Implementation of FCTC Article 6 (taxes) and Article 15 (illicit trade), which was established per the request of that subregion Member States to PAHO in 2015. The meetings facilitated a space for interaction so South American public officials and representatives of civil society and academia shared achievements and challenges as well as brainstorming ways to design joint agendas with strategies appropriate for a post-pandemic context. Additionally, this was an important opportunity to look for common needs from the South American Member States that could be facilitated by PAHO.