Launch of WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic 2019

Speech of the Head of the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC

26 July 2019

Minister Mandetta, Ministers Mazzoleni and Basso, state and municipal health secretaries, dear friends, colleagues and compatriots.

I would like to thank the Brazilian government and the World Health Organization for inviting the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products to participate in the launch of the WHO Seventh Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic.

The overarching objective of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, economic, social and environmental impact of tobacco. The 181 Parties to the Convention have committed themselves to saving lives through tobacco control. Its various guidelines, and now the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, of which Brazil and Uruguay are already parties, and soon, we hope, Paraguay, will, show governments' steadfast commitment to combat this epidemic.

The report being launched today focuses on tobacco cessation and outlines progress to date on the implementation of Article 14 of the WHO FCTC.

Reducing demand for tobacco through cessation support is one of the Convention’s core demand reduction strategies. Article 14 of the WHO FCTC and its Guidelines call upon Parties to implement a series of measures to assist tobacco users to quit. When countries implement such measures they could ensure, at the same time, that these interventions become integral parts of universal health coverage.

We welcome the release of this new report providing quality information and comparable data on progress in implementing some of the Framework Convention's demand reduction measures, a useful complement to the WHO Global Progress Report on FCTC Implementation, which reports on all Convention shall be submitted to the Conference of the Parties on a mandatory basis every two years.

Stopping tobacco use has an immediate impact on health outcomes and ensuring that appropriate cessation services and nicotine addiction treatment are part of any tobacco control strategy will maximize the potential for these life-saving initiatives.

However, we need to be alert to tobacco industry strategies promoting new tobacco products, such as hookahs and heated cigarettes, as a way to reduce the harm caused by the use of traditional tobacco. These are all tobacco products and in countries where their marketing has been permitted, they must be subject to the Convention's regulatory framework.

I would like to use this opportunity to congratulate the Brazilian government for their important advances in the implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Within the Unified Health System the Smoker Treatment Program offers free smoking cessation treatments for those who need it. There are also structures in place for monitoring the smoking epidemic that allow us to verify the significant reduction of 34.8% to 14.7% in the prevalence of smoking in the population over 18 years in Brazil. Finally, ANVISA's role in regulating tobacco products where it has helped the country as a public health guardian use the precautionary principle to prevent new products from entering the market without proper evidence of their effects on initiation and health.

More recently, the country has taken yet another important step, in line with Article 19 of the WHO FCTC, when the Office of the Attorney-General filed a lawsuit at the Federal Court of Rio Grande do Sul against the largest tobacco corporations in Brazil and their parent companies abroad, to seek recovery of healthcare costs related to the treatment of tobacco-induced diseases.

These victories are the result of an important effort to coordinate through multisectoral fortifications of governance in line with Article 5 of the Convention. Also, the work of the National Commission for Implementation of the Convention (CONICQ), which is led by the Executive Secretary, Dr. Tânia Cavalcante, serves as an example for other countries in ensuring cross-sectoral collaboration in tobacco control.

Some challenges remain on the tobacco control agenda in Brazil, and I would like to list some of them here:

  • There is need for effective banning of additives in tobacco products used to facilitate initiation and the banning of display of tobacco products at points of sale: both essential measures to protect the health of our children and adolescents.
  • Strengthening tobacco crop diversification programs, especially given the global scenario of reduced smoking prevalence combined with environmental preservation measures.
  • Follow the tax and price increase policy combined with the implementation of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products - measures that will definitely impact the health and quality of life of the poorest and youngest.

I would like to end by expressing the Secretariat's great concern about the aggressive and malicious marketing of the tobacco industry and its rampant lobbying on governments and public institutions, pushing for market entry or increase in market share for new products that have no proven benefits and the promotion of studies without academic rigor that preach the concept that implementing Convention measures leads to increased smuggling.

There is no point of convergence between the interests of the tobacco industry and those of public health. In order to strengthen the implementation of the treaty and to protect the integrity of the Convention and its Protocols from attacks by the tobacco industry, the Conference of Parties recently adopted the Global Strategy to Accelerate Tobacco Control: Advancing Sustainable Development through the Implementation of the WHO FCTC 2019-2025, which supports the implementation of the Convention.

We have now years of experience and expertise in tackling tobacco use. We have the tools and the knowledge. But we are also aware that the tobacco industry is also hard at work in preventing us from ending the tobacco epidemic. We must remain vigilant. For the sake of public health, and in the interests of our children and future generations, things must change.

Thank you again for the invitation and congratulations for this launch.