A tobacco-free world | Day 215

Unless the global addiction to tobacco is curbed, by the end of the century we can expect a billion deaths caused by tobacco in various forms, most notably smoking. So says a team of public health experts, lead by researchers from the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

As they write in a series of recent articles in the respectable medical journal The Lancet (paywall, sorry),  the “goal of a tobacco-free world by 2040—where less than 5% of adults use tobacco—is socially desirable, technically feasible, and could become politically practical.”

This goal is modelled after New Zealand’s own SmokeFree 2025 goal to which they committed three years ago. The country is working towards a first-in-the-world aim to have a smoking prevalence of less than 5% across all populations of New Zealand – without an actual ban on smoking (which would obviously drive the whole business underground).

Ten years ago the World Health Organisation introduced the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a treaty designed to develop a regulatory strategy for decreasing the use of tobacco worldwide. Amongst provisions in this document were things like tax measures to reduce the demand for tobacco products, as well as suggestions for plain packaging, regulation of tobacco advertising, and a range of others.

However, it has not been enough, because in these same ten years around 50 million people have died because of the use of tobacco, and right now only 15 per cent of the world’s population can access programs that could help them quit smoking.

Professor Robert Beaglehole, the lead author of the initiative, has pointed out in a media statement that “a world where tobacco is out of sight, out of mind, and out of fashion – yet not prohibited – is achievable in less than three decades from now, but only with full commitment from governments, international agencies, such as UN and World Health Organisation, and civil society.”

Given the global track record of tackling other significant issues, that’s a tall ask, however the authors do outline a list of specific recommendations for a “turbo-charged” set of actions, such as a full implementation of the FCTC globally; tackling of the entrenched opposition of the tobacco industry, including transitioning of tobacco growers to other modes of business; and even mounting a global campaign of outrage against the effects of the tobacco industry.

Most notably, the want to seriously involve the UN: “To complement the FCTC and give it more comprehensive global support than it has at present, the tobacco-free world 2040 goal ultimately requires a UN declaration that the sale of tobacco products should be phased out.”

I like this plan. Sometime between my teenage years and now, smoking stopped being cool. Not everywhere, not for everyone, but the trend is definitely there – a lot of that has to do with stricter regulations for smoking in public places, higher cigarette prices, and various public awareness campaigns.

With concerted global effort this trend, currently seen in some countries, Australia included, could be made wide-spread, leading to a tobacco-free world, where smoking really isn’t cool. Now, if we manage to kick this addiction, that could be a great thing to achieve in this century.

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