Commonwealth Parliamentarians plan to tackle the tobacco epidemic

London, United Kingdom
14 December 2016

Members of parliamentary Commonwealth countries have met in London for the 62nd Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference. This large international gathering was used as an opportunity to advance tobacco control efforts globally. The United Nations Development Programme along with the Convention Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) organized a side event on the implementation of the WHO FCTC.

The objective of the event was to assist Parliamentarians engage more effectively in developing tobacco control legislation and oversight of tobacco policies, learning from experiences across different countries and settings.

Alando Terrelonge, a parliamentarian from Jamaica, reminded assembled MPs of the severity of the tobacco epidemic. “Every six seconds someone dies of a tobacco related illness,” he said. “Legislation is essential in preventing these unnecessary deaths.”

The initiative has been driven by the need to help prevent disease and death caused by tobacco addiction with more targeted laws and regulations.

The building of measures that effectively aid public health have proved beneficial in supporting sustainable development, tackling issues such as poverty reduction, building food security, assisting economic growth, delivering better educational outcomes and improving domestic resource flows.

“Every one of the Sustainable Development Goals has a relevance to tobacco,” stressed Lord Faulkner of the UK. “Take ending poverty in all its forms everywhere. Money spent on tobacco is obviously not available for spending on food, education and healthcare. In some African countries, the poorest households are spending as much as 15% of their disposable income on tobacco,” he added.

Parliamentarians from Africa, Asia, Australia, Canada and the Pacific region were asked how tobacco control measures can support their own work and advance sustainable development. It also proved a good chance to assess the effectiveness of existing tobacco control laws in the countries represented at the event, and provided an opportunity to learn from experiences shared between the Parliamentarians.

Poto Williams shared New Zealand’s experience of tobacco control. “We recognised the harm tobacco was doing in our indigenous communities, with smoking rates twice that of the general population,” she said “Targeting prevention efforts [and] recognising the needs of our most vulnerable groups have been central to our successes as we move towards a tobacco-free New Zealand.”

In the twentieth century tobacco killed 100 million people. It is now on track to kill 1 billion during the twenty first century, and by 2030, 80% of deaths will be in low and middle income countries.

If the WHO FCTC is fully implemented by all 180 Parties to the Convention it could halt the tobacco epidemic, increase government revenues and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and global targets to reduce noncommunicable diseases.

The event was funded by the European Union and supported by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and the Framework Convention Alliance.