The number of tobacco users in the region has dropped to just 17%, which is below the global average of 20%. However, this means that one in every five adults above the age of 15 still uses tobacco, one of the main causes of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).
Countries have committed to implementing measures to reduce premature mortality from these diseases by one-third by 2030, in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals. PAHO’s report highlights that it is vital that countries step up efforts to increase tobacco control measures in order to meet this objective.
“While we are certainly heading in the right direction when it comes to reducing the number of tobacco users and protecting the population from the adverse effects of tobacco exposure, we are just not moving fast enough. The fact remains that more than two thousand people die each day in the Americas as a direct consequence of tobacco use and this epidemic will continue unless countries accelerate the speed at which effective policies are being implemented.” .. Dr. Anselm Hennis, Director of the Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health Unit at PAHO.
The new report highlights progress that countries in the Americas have made towards implementing the measures outlined in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which aims to protect present and future generations from the devastating consequences of tobacco use and exposure. These measures include regulations to protect people from tobacco smoke by establishing 100% smoke-free environments; the mandatory inclusion of large, graphic health warnings on all tobacco packaging; raising taxes on tobacco; and a total ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. The report shows that 12 out of 35 countries in the Americas have yet to implement even one of these effective tobacco control measures.
The report also shows that while implementation of tobacco control measures has increased in the region over the past decade, progress has recently slowed down.
The two most implemented tobacco control measures in the Americas are those that protect against exposure to tobacco smoke through 100% smoke-free environments, and mandatory health warnings on all tobacco packaging, implemented in 19 and 18 countries respectively, two more for each measure than in 2016.
Fourteen countries in the Americas have reduced the affordability of tobacco products, increasing the price of the most popular brand of cigarettes in relation to income. The report highlights the case of Argentina, which raised taxes on tobacco products to comprise 75% of their retail price. Colombia and Peru have also significantly increased taxes on tobacco products.
Even so, since 2016, just one country in the region has banned tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, bringing the total number of countries implementing this measure to six.
“The increase in the number of countries to have put into effect at least one effective tobacco control measure is reassuring,” said Dr. Adriana Blanco, Chief of the Risk Factors and Nutrition Unit at PAHO. “But since 2016, the number of countries to have implemented at least four measures remains unchanged, at six. If we are to effectively protect populations against the impact of tobacco use, we need to go much further and ensure that more measures are implemented.”
Progress in the Caribbean
One of the main areas of progress in the last two years outlined in the report occurred in the Caribbean, although it remains the subregion with the lowest number of countries to have implemented the measures outlined in the WHO FCTC.
Guyana was highlighted due to the passing of its comprehensive tobacco control law in 2017. This law now positions the country among the most compliant in three areas: protecting people from tobacco smoke; bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and mandatory large graphic health warnings on all tobacco packaging. Saint Lucia and Barbados are following suit with the approval of measures to include mandatory health warnings on tobacco product packaging.
“We welcome recent efforts from the Caribbean to begin the implementation of effective tobacco control measures and we hope this will show other countries in the sub-region the long-term benefits that measures will have on their economies and, most importantly, the health of their populations,” said Dr. Hennis.
Threats to ensuring tobacco control
The report highlights interference from the tobacco industry as an ongoing threat to the swift and effective implementation of tobacco control measures, as is the availability of new tobacco products on the market, which are widely and aggressively advertised to potential new consumers.
“It is vital that the region renews its commitment to overcoming these challenges,” said Dr. Hennis. “South-south cooperation must be strengthened in order to share best practices, and more regional studies must be carried out so that we can be better informed as to what works best in the region’s ongoing efforts on tobacco control.
One of the primary strategies to support the implementation of the FCTC is the WHO MPOWER measures, which calls for government action on six areas: Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies (M); Protect people from tobacco smoke (P); Offer help to quit tobacco use (O); Warn about the dangers of tobacco (W); Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (E); Raise taxes on tobacco (R).
The new report evaluates progress that countries in the Americas have made towards the implementation of these six measures, four of which have been defined as best buys for the prevention and control of NCDs.
Preparatory meeting for the Conference of the Parties
The report is being launched during the regional preparatory meeting for the Eighth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP8) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which is taking place in Washington D.C. from the 28 to 30 August 2018. This meeting brings together representatives from Ministries of Health and Ministries of Foreign Affairs of countries that are parties to the WHO FCTC from all over the region of the Americas, to discuss the main opportunities and challenges regarding tobacco control and how best to protect the population.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) works with the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their populations. Founded in 1902, it is the world’s oldest international public health agency. It serves as the Regional Office of WHO for the Americas and is the specialized health agency of the Inter-American system.