Director-General's Office

Tobacco free finance pledge

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General

United Nations General Assembly, New York, USA
26 September 2018

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It’s wonderful to be here this morning, and I thank you so much for the opportunity to speak.

As you know, the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than 7 million people a year.

It’s one of the leading causes of preventable death. Around 80% of the world’s 1.1 billion smokers live in low and middle-income countries.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is the world’s first legally-binding treaty on health, and has been a powerful tool in tobacco control efforts.

The implementation of the protocol is supported by MPOWER – a package of 6 evidence-based tools to protect people from tobacco.

Almost two-thirds of the world’s population is now covered by at least one MPOWER measure – like bans on indoor smoking, bans on tobacco advertising, or increased tobacco taxes.

Soon another legal instrument will enter into force – the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.

But we always need new ways of protecting health from the harms of tobacco, and I’m pleased to see the focus on tobacco-free financing here today.

The truth is, if tobacco were a deadly virus, we would invest millions in developing vaccines to prevent it or drugs to treat it.

Instead, the world invests billions of dollars in rewarding an industry that destroys human health and causes untold suffering.

Every dollar invested in a tobacco company is an investment in death and disease.

We must fight tobacco on every front – in kiosks, on billboards, in the courts, at the WTO – and on the markets.

Divestment from the tobacco industry sends a powerful message that tobacco companies cannot continue to profit from death.

I congratulate Tobacco Free Portfolios for the work you are doing on responsible investment that ensures we put our money where our mouth is on public health – or where our heart is on public health.

This conversation is bigger than just tobacco. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals demands that we reallocate capital from unsustainable to sustainable practices and businesses.

Big public funds in Australia, France, New Zealand, Norway and the Netherlands have led the way and gone tobacco-free.

These countries have shown that it makes no sense to fight tobacco and the tobacco industry with one hand, while financing it with the other.

I urge all countries to move in this direction and ensure that their sovereign funds go tobacco-free. I would like to thank and congratulate the pathfinder countries.

Thank you for your commitment to a tobacco-free world. You can count on WHO for support every step of the way.

I thank you.