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July 25, 2019 — The tobacco epidemic is one of the greatest threats to public health the world has ever faced, accounting for over 8 million deaths each year, including 1 million in the Region of the Americas alone. Many countries, such as Brazil, have made significant progress, but the tobacco industry continues its attempts to undermine these efforts. This was one of several topics addressed this Thursday, July 25, in Rio de Janeiro, at a seminar which included representatives of international organizations, the Brazilian government, and civil society.

 

Picture1July 25, 2019 — The tobacco epidemic is one of the greatest threats to public health the world has ever faced, accounting for over 8 million deaths each year, including 1 million in the Region of the Americas alone. Many countries, such as Brazil, have made significant progress, but the tobacco industry continues its attempts to undermine these efforts. This was one of several topics addressed this Thursday, July 25, in Rio de Janeiro, at a seminar which included representatives of international organizations, the Brazilian government, and civil society.

According to Anselm Hennis, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health Department, raising taxes on tobacco products is one of the most effective measures and has the greatest positive impact on vulnerable populations, such as children, young adults, and people living in poverty. “It’s a win-win-win strategy.” Tobacco pricing and tax measures constitute an effective and important intervention that “reduces tobacco consumption, reduces health costs, and is a source of funding” for development.

However, as noted by Roberto Iglesias, coordinator of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tobacco Control Economics Unit, the industry continually tries to prevent tax increases and other effective actions by using “scare tactics” and misinformation. “They say raising taxes will boost illicit trade and destroy jobs. The industry also overestimates its own importance by claiming there will be lost revenues, and that tax increases will rob the poor of a source of joy. Tobacco products kill. They don’t bring joy. Suggesting tobacco should be cheap so it remains affordable to the poor is cynical at best.”

Vera da Costa e Silva, Head of Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, believes the answer to illicit trade is the implementation of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products. “This new treaty will enable greater control of the tobacco product supply chain, facilitate law enforcement by establishing what constitutes illegal conduct, and promote greater information exchange through international cooperation instruments.”

Brazil

Luciana Monteiro, the coordinator-general for Noncommunicable Diseases and Conditions at the Brazilian Ministry of Health, presented findings from the 2018 Telephone Survey on Risk and Protective Factors for Chronic Diseases (Vigitel). “The prevalence of active smokers decreased by 40% from 2006 to 2018. It was higher among women than men and in among 35-to-44 and 45-to-54-year-olds,” she noted.

Regarding these findings, Tania Cavalcante, the executive secretary of the National Commission for the Implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (CONICQ), remarked that, despite the decline in the prevalence of smokers, Brazil remains a “haven for the tobacco industry”.

According to Cavalcante, one of the main sources of power of transnational tobacco companies is their ability to control the entire production chain, especially at the agricultural stage. “Tobacco growing involves 150,000 farming families in Brazil. Companies come in with contracts, provide technical support, take advantage of these families’ fertile land and cheap labor, and trap farmers in a vicious cycle of economic dependency, debt, occupational diseases, child labor, and a host of other related problems”, she noted.

Monica Andreis, the executive director of ACT Health Promotion, argued that the decline in prevalence of smoking in Brazil was the result of joint efforts and implementation of educational, preventive, legislative, and regulatory measures. “This coalition that brings together civil society, medical societies, universities, governments... can make a difference in standing up to the power and influence of the tobacco industry.”

The director of the José Alencar Gomes da Silva National Cancer Institute (INCA), Ana Cristina Pinho, highlighted the importance of partnerships to strengthen tobacco control. “We still have immense challenges ahead of us, such as upholding our ban on the marketing of electronic cigarettes, maintaining our minimum price policy for cigarettes, increasing taxation, adopting standardized packaging, enforcing the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade, and achieving a definitive ban on the use of additives in tobacco products. But we also know that we are on this road together to ensure that Brazil remains a global reference in tobacco control.”

Related links

WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic 2019
PAHO Strategy and Plan of Action to Strengthen Tobacco Control in the Region of the Americas 2018-2022:
WHO FCTC
WHO TaXSim
Protocol to eliminate illicit trade of tobacco products