Plenary two: Tobacco Control

Plenary two: Tobacco Control

Tobacco industry interference in public health policy was a theme common to all three presentations in this year’s tobacco control plenary: from the opportunities offered to the industry by e-cigarettes, to lobby groups delaying life-saving health policy in Brazil, to the aggressive targeting of young people in Africa.

Professor Jeff Collin, University of Edinburgh, UK opened the session on the controversial issue of e-cigarettes.

‘Tobacco companies are very keen to promote the convergence of their new products with harm reduction and public health,’ said Professor Collin. ‘It offers the industry a great opportunity to regain access to policymakers, scientists and public health advocates.’

Over the last 10 years this access has been increasingly curtailed as countries adopt a measure central to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) – protecting public health policy from tobacco industry interference (Article 5.3). Professor Collin stated that Article 5.3 was the root of tobacco control’s considerable progress over the last decade.

All tobacco companies are now invested in e-cigarettes. After several years of rapid growth, it is a market projected to be worth US $50 billion by 2030 – but this would still equate to just 5 percent of the global tobacco market.

‘E-cigarettes are weapons of mass distraction,’ said Professor Collin. ‘There is a distorting lens of excessive focus on these products. Article 5.3, preventing tobacco industry interference must still be our absolute priority.’

Kellen Namusisi of the Center for Tobacco Control Africa, Uganda, then presented an overview of tobacco control in Africa.

The region has a triple burden of disease: communicable, non-communicable and poverty-related. But of these, tobacco use is the greatest risk factor. With consumption projected to increase by 39% by 2030, Africa will become the fastest growing market in the world.

‘There is already huge growth in the youth market,’ said Kellen Namusisi. ‘We are presented with a very worrying picture for future prevalence of tobacco use.’

Africa is at present a prime target for tobacco companies because tobacco control is comparatively weak and there is lack of funding and capacity to invest in these programmes. Governments are focused on communicable and poverty-related disease and few countries have policies in place to prevent tobacco industry interference. Economic growth means many people in Africa have more money to spend on products like tobacco.

Success stories in the region illustrate that strong tobacco control policy is having an impact. Increased tobacco taxes in South Africa led to a 25 percent decrease amongst adult smokers; Kenya has a successful ‘track and trace’ system to tackle illicit trade and Chad and Mauritius have implemented strong legislations on tobacco packaging.  

Kellen Namusisi concluded by welcoming the decision to host the World Conference on Tobacco or Health 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. She said it offered an unprecedented opportunity to rally governments in the region to mobilise on tobacco control.

Dr Tania Cavalcante, head of the tobacco control division at Brazil’s National Cancer Institute then presented on the status of smoke-free legislation in Latin America

Since the WHO FCTC came into force 10 years ago at least half of the population of Latin America are now protected by 100 percent smoke-free laws. Dr Cavalcante said the assistance of civil society organisations, including The Union, was vital for this progress.

Uruguay was the first Latin American country to go smoke-free. Research showed that this led to substantial and sustained reduction in acute myocardial infarction, with 17 percent fewer hospital admissions for this condition.

Shortfalls in Brazil’s smoke-free law have been the result of tobacco industry interference through lobbyists and industry front groups. Delayed by several years, when the law did come into force there were exemptions – which were strongly contested by civil society and the public at large.

At the end of the session, the 2016 Union Scientific Prize was presented.  This award acknowledgesresearchers at any stage in their career for work on tuberculosis or lung health published in the past five years. It went to Dr Andreas H. Diacon, professor at Stellenbosch University, Cape Town and Chief Executive Officer of Task Applied Science.