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Today, The Union is supporting World No Tobacco Day, which this year highlights tobacco’s deadly toll on lung health. The Union calls for renewed efforts to strengthen tobacco control in all countries and integrate tobacco control into health promotion and disease control programmes – measures that are critically needed to prevent the millions of deaths caused by tobacco-related lung diseases each year.

In addition to being a leading cause of debilitating non-communicable diseases such as lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), smoking is also a major risk factor for tuberculosis (TB): the deadliest infectious disease in the world. In 2017, 1.6 million people lost their lives because of TB, and 10 million people fell ill with the disease. It is estimated that more than 20% of global TB incidence can be attributed to tobacco. A robust study conducted in 2014 demonstrated that regular smoking doubles the risk that people who have been successfully treated for TB will develop TB again. Smokers with TB are also more likely to die from the disease. Offering smoking cessation advice and support to TB patients is one strategy The Union is using which is simple to adopt and proven to save lives.

The most effective way to protect people’s lung health from the harms of tobacco is through full implementation of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), and by adopting the six evidence-based MPOWER measures. The Union has helped more than 50 countries to implement MPOWER-based policies – such as smoke-free laws, graphic health warnings on packaging and tobacco advertising bans – impacting billions of people globally. Together with our partners around the world, The Union has been making huge progress – but with over eight million people still dying every year from tobacco-related diseases, it is not enough.

“We cannot ignore the overwhelming evidence of tobacco’s impact on lung health,” said Dr Gan Quan, Director of The Union’s Department of Tobacco Control. “We should also remain vigilant of efforts from the tobacco industry to undermine tobacco control policies, notably through its recent tactics in hijacking the narrative of ‘harm reduction’ through new products such as IQOS.”

Tobacco industry interference in policy-making remains a lethal threat to lung health. The rise of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products like IQOS, are being promoted by big tobacco as safer alternatives to smoking – but we do not know what the long-term impact of these products may be on lung health. The liquid used in e-cigarettes, for example, contains many toxins which can cause lung diseases such as COPD, lung cancer and asthma, not to mention cardiovascular diseases.

The evidence available indicates that these new tobacco products are not risk-free, yet they are being aggressively marketed as such in low- and middle-income countries, where tobacco control policies are not yet strong enough or well enough implemented to protect non-smokers and young people.

Dr Gan Quan said: “the recent campaign launched by Phillip Morris International (PMI) to rebrand WNTD as World No Smoking Day not only reveals its indifference to the millions of people suffering from diseases caused by smokeless tobacco products, but also serves as a reminder for us that this is simply another tactic by PMI to promote its deadly products.”

Presently, the world is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of a one-third reduction by 2030 in premature deaths caused by non-communicable diseases – and we are still a long way from ending the TB epidemic. To achieve these milestones, we must be ever more vigilant against the devious tactics of the tobacco industry, and tobacco control must be a priority for governments and communities worldwide.


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The Tobacco Control Department is based at The Union Europe Office, Edinburgh, registered charity no. SC039880
ⓒ Copyright 2015 The Union