The year 2019 is ending on a good note as it relates to the fight against the tobacco epidemic. After strenuous efforts by governments and international partners, there is evidence to suggest that progress, even though incremental, is being made to reduce the number of persons smoking and dying from tobacco-related causes worldwide.
It should be noted that tobacco is responsible for over 7 million deaths per year worldwide. This includes approximately 900,000 persons who die from diseases related to exposure to tobacco smoke. Over 40% of all tobacco-related deaths are from lung diseases like cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and tuberculosis.
According to the most recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report, for the first time, the number of males using tobacco is on the decline, “indicating a powerful shift in the global tobacco epidemic”. According to the WHO global report on trends in prevalence of tobacco use 2000-2025, third edition, during nearly the past two decades, overall global tobacco use has fallen from 1.397 billion in 2000 to 0.337 billion in 2018, or by approximately 60 million people; this has been largely driven by reductions in the number of females using these products (346 million in 2000 down to 244 million in 2018, or a fall over around 100 million).
Over the same period, male tobacco use had risen by around 40 million, from 1.050 billion in 2000 to 1.093 billion in 2018 (or 82% of the world’s current 1.337 billion tobacco users). But positively, the new report shows that the number of male tobacco users has stopped growing and is projected to decline by more than 1 million fewer male users come 2020 (or 1.091 billion) compared to 2018 levels, and 5 million less by 2025 (1.087 billion).
By 2020, WHO projects there will be 10 million fewer tobacco users, male and female, compared to 2018, and another 27 million less by 2025, amounting to 1.299 billion. Some 60% of countries have been experiencing a decline in tobacco use since 2010. The findings, published a few days ago, demonstrate how government-led action can protect communities from tobacco, save lives and prevent people from suffering tobacco-related harm.
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was quoted in the report’s summary as saying that declines in tobacco use amongst males mark a turning point in the fight against tobacco. He said for many years now we had witnessed a steady rise in the number of males using deadly tobacco products. But now, for the first time, we are seeing a decline in male use, driven by governments being tougher on the tobacco industry.
However, despite such gains, progress in meeting the global target set by governments to cut tobacco use by 30% by 2025 remains off track. Based on current progress, a 23% reduction will be achieved by 2025. Only 32 countries are currently on track to reach the 30% reduction target.
Guyana’s tobacco control law, enacted in 2017, follows several of the articles of the WHO Convention and mandates the adoption and implementation of a series of tobacco control policies that make it one of the most complete tobacco control laws. These include 100% smoke-free environments in all indoor public spaces, indoor workspaces, public transportation and specified outdoor spaces to protect people from exposure to tobacco smoke; a ban on all forms of advertising and promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products; health warnings featured on 60% of tobacco product packaging, including images. It also includes a ban on the sale of tobacco products to and by minors, prohibition on vending machines sales; and a ban on the manufacture and sales of toys and candies, and any other goods in the form of tobacco products.
However, there is still much work to be done to win the battle against tobacco as 78% of all deaths here are caused by non-communicable diseases (NCDs); some of which we all know are strongly related to tobacco use. Having the necessary legislation in place is a good starting point, but there are many other challenges which health authorities here must address if Guyana is to really reduce the number of persons dying or becoming ill due to tobacco use or exposure. These challenges relate to monitoring and compliance, and enforcement of the legislation to ensure that the population is protected from the dangers of tobacco use.