Director-General's Office

World No Tobacco Day

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General of the World Health Organization

WHO headquarters, Geneva
31 May 2018

Your Excellency Dr Tabaré Vazquez, President of Uruguay, my dear brother, distinguished guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to WHO. It’s a real honour to have you here, President Vazquez.

I keep saying that we need political commitment at the highest levels to make real progress in health, and His Excellency is the perfect example of what I mean.

We first met here in Geneva almost a year ago, as you remember, and I was pleased to see you again at the meeting on NCDs in Montevideo in October, where I felt at home. The hospitality was great, and the hospitality that was extended by you personally. Your support has just been incredible and exceptional. I want to come back to Montevideo, by the way.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is a year of big anniversaries. It’s the 70th birthday of WHO, the 40th anniversary of the Alma Ata declaration on primary care, and the 100th anniversary of the Spanish flu pandemic.

It’s also the 30th birthday of World No Tobacco Day, which was agreed by the World Health Assembly in 1988.

Many people know that tobacco use causes cancer. But many people are not aware that tobacco also causes heart attacks and strokes, which are the world’s leading causes of death.

Tobacco breaks hearts, quite literally.

That’s why we have chosen cardiovascular disease as the theme for World No Tobacco Day this year.

Tobacco kills more than 7 million people each year, and almost half of those deaths are from heart disease and stroke.

Tobacco is one of the greatest public health threats the world has ever faced.

The Spanish flu pandemic 100 years ago killed an estimated 50 million people.

Tobacco is like a Spanish flu pandemic every seven years.

If tobacco was a virus, the world would invest billions of dollars to develop vaccines to prevent it and medicines to cure it.

But because it is a multi-billion dollar industry, many governments turn a blind eye.

The Sustainable Development Goals set a target for reducing premature mortality from noncommunicable diseases by one third by 2030. Dramatically reducing tobacco use globally is a central pillar for achieving that target.

Today WHO is releasing a new report that shows that over half of countries are making progress towards reducing tobacco use, but more needs to be done.

There are over 1.1 billion people in the world using tobacco products today, and if current trends continue, we will miss our goals and targets.

But it should not be that way, because we know exactly what to do.

Banning tobacco marketing and smoking in public places, to make it harder to smoke;

Raising tobacco taxes, to reduce consumption and generate revenues for health systems.

And stopping the illegal trade of tobacco, to reduce the availability of cheap tobacco products, fight crime and protect government tax revenues.

That’s why the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products is such an important tool. We need five more countries to ratify the protocol, and I’m pleased to say that Uruguay was actually the second country to ratify it (Nicaragua was the first).

Indeed, Uruguay has led by example for many years.

In 2005 it introduced health warnings on tobacco packs. This and other measures have helped to reduce smoking prevalence by 13% since 2009.

In fact, they were so successful that Philip Morris International sued Uruguay in an international court for damaging its trademarks and investments.

In 2016, Uruguay won, and the court ordered Philip Morris to pay Uruguay’s costs.

This was a major victory not only for Uruguay, but for the regulation of other harmful commodities around the world.

Under the leadership of President Vazquez, Uruguay has become a hero in the fight against tobacco.

Today I have the greatest honour of awarding His Excellency President Dr Tabaré Ramón Vázquez, President of Uruguay, the Director-General’s Special Recognition Award of Contribution to Global Tobacco Control, in appreciation of his strong leadership.

Your Excellency, thank you for your efforts to protect the health of your people, and for the example you have set for the whole world. I salute you.

Please join me in congratulating President Tabaré Vazquez, and share with me my greatest respect and appreciation for your leadership.

Muchas gracias, hermano.