Yesterday (Friday, 31 May) was observed across the world as World No Tobacco Day, and several countries took the opportunity once again to highlight the dangers of tobacco use, and what could be done by Governments and health partners to minimise the impact of tobacco use on communities.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), tobacco is responsible for around 7 million deaths per year worldwide. This includes 900,000 persons who die from diseases related to exposure to tobacco smoke. If current trends continue, tobacco use would kill 10 million people per year by 2020. Seventy per cent of these fatalities would occur in less developed and emerging nations. WHO has also explained that over 40 per cent of all tobacco-related deaths are from lung diseases like cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and tuberculosis.
Here, in Guyana, 78 per cent of all deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases (NCDs), some of which we all know are strongly related to tobacco use. Over 15 per cent of the adult population currently smoke; and, more worryingly, the results of a Global Youth Tobacco Survey conducted in 2015 revealed that 14.8 per cent of adolescents aged between 13 and 15 years also use tobacco.
Countries, including Guyana, must take stock of what is happening, and continue to work diligently with international health partners to increase action to protect people from exposure to tobacco use. Too many people are dying senselessly, and urgent action must be taken, as these are deaths which can be avoided.
The WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is an international public health treaty and a guiding framework for the global fight against the tobacco epidemic. Guyana has been a party to the FCTC since 2005. The FCTC requires countries to apply a series of policies and measures aimed at reducing the global tobacco epidemic.
After a lengthy process, perhaps many months of consultations, in July 2017 Guyana took the bold step of passing the National Tobacco Act. This legislation 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 per cent smoke-free environments in all indoor public spaces, indoor work spaces, public transportation and specified outdoor spaces, to protect people from exposure to tobacco smoke; a ban on all forms of advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products; health warnings featured on 60 per cent 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, having the necessary legislation in place is a good starting point, but there are many other challenges which health authorities 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. Much of the success will be based on the quality of enforcement mechanisms in place. Aspects of enforcement are crucial, without which a legislation will face implementation challenges.
That said, ensuring the protection of a country’s population is not a very easy process, but many would say the payoff in the end could be very huge, as it results directly in the improved health and wellbeing of citizens. On this basis, the WHO is urging countries to fight the tobacco epidemic through full implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and enforcing effective tobacco control actions; for example, by reducing demand for tobacco through taxation and creating smoke-free places etc.
Parents and community and religious leaders are also being urged to take steps to safeguard the health of their families and communities by informing them of, and protecting them from, the harms caused by tobacco.
There is also need for continuous public awareness and education campaigns about the harmful effects of tobacco use and exposure.