The comprehensive implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in the Region, and in the world, remains a pending task that has become even more urgent with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Region of the Americas has been greatly affected by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Tobacco control measures are of the greatest relevance. Indeed, smoking is a risk factor for the four main non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which lie at the base of the severity of the pandemic, but also because of the fact that smokers are more likely to develop severe symptoms if they contract COVID-19.
Within this context, it is important to reduce the significant economic burden associated with tobacco, such as healthcare expenditures and productivity losses. This burden is significantly higher than the revenue from tobacco taxes and tends to foster poverty thus threatening the sustainable development of the region.
Tobacco continues to kill more than 1 million people in the Region of the Americas every year. Despite all the advances in the Region since the FCTC entered into effect in 2005, 40% of the Member States still fail to implement key measures contained within the Convention. These include banning smoking in all enclosed public and workplace and public transportation, as well as the mandatory inclusion of large graphic health warnings on all tobacco products packaging. Furthermore, effective measures to protect young people from being exposed to misleading information, such as banning tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, have only been implemented by 22% of the Member States. Finally, despite being the most cost-effective measure to reduce tobacco use, only four countries have set tobacco taxes at the minimum level recommended by the WHO.
Tobacco taxes represent a triple win for governments by improving health, reducing associated costs, and increasing tax revenues. In addition, in the current context, the additional revenue could be used to respond to the pandemic or help finance economic recovery. Therefore, it is crucial to enhance policy coherence between the fiscal and public health sectors regarding the use of excise taxes on tobacco products.
Strengthening tobacco control requires a multi-sectoral effort because many of the most cost-effective policies go beyond the health sector. The common language across sectors is economic evidence. It serves to guide public policy and counter the arguments and interference of the tobacco industry and its affiliates.
In this framework, with the financial support of the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, through our World Health Organization central office and with the technical and operational support of the National Institute of Public Health of Mexico (INSP), the Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health Department's tobacco control and economics of noncommunicable disease teams have an online training package covering tobacco taxation and the economics of tobacco control, to be carried out in a series of four virtual sessions in June and July 2021.
The training will cover the following topics:
- Thursday - June 3rd – 11:00 am EDT: The economic and social impact of tobacco
- Thursday - June 17th – 11:00 am EDT: Tobacco taxation: from theory to practice
- Thursday - July 1st – 11:00 am EDT: The illicit trade in tobacco products and evidence to counter the arguments against tobacco taxes
- Thursday - July 15th – 11:00 am EDT: The economics of non-price related tobacco control policies
- Strengthen the capacity of Member States to implement the MPOWER package tobacco control measures contained in the FCTC within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic using a multisectoral approach
- Provide economic arguments to achieve coherence between fiscal and public health policies regarding excise taxes on tobacco products, focusing on their use within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic
- Present the best practices in the use and administration of excise taxes on tobacco products
- Provide economic arguments and regional evidence to promote the implementation of non-price related tobacco control measures and counter the tobacco industry's arguments against tobacco control measures
- Member States government officials involved in the design, monitoring, and evaluation of tobacco tax policies from Ministries of Finance, Economy, Trade, or Tax Administration and Cus-toms agencies.
- FCTC focal points from the Ministries of Health, Foreign Affairs, and other government officials involved in tobacco control.
- Economists (civil society and academia) and activists working on tobacco control in the Region of the Americas.
This online training consists in four webinars of 120 minutes each, to be organized between June and July 2021. Each session will combine international experts presentations and country experiences.