Just four countries - only one of which is in the European Union - have implemented all of the World Health Organization (WHO)’s recommended measures to reduce tobacco smoking globally.
The countries of the Netherlands and Mauritius have now joined Brazil and Turkey in implementing the measures, according to the UN health agency’s latest report on progress in controlling tobacco.
The WHO recommends monitoring tobacco use and prevention, protecting people from smoke, offering help for quitting, warning people about smoking’s dangers, enforcing bans on advertising, and raising taxes on tobacco.
“I congratulate Mauritius on becoming the first country in Africa, and the Netherlands on becoming the first in the European Union to implement the full package of WHO tobacco control policies at the highest level,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, in a statement.
“WHO stands ready to support all countries to follow their example and protect their people from this deadly scourge”.
Smoking is responsible for 8.7 million deaths per year globally and around 700,000 deaths per year in the European Union.
It remains the “single largest avoidable health risk, and the most significant cause of premature death in the EU,” according to the European Commission.
Around 18.4 per cent of the EU population aged 15 and older reported that they were daily smokers in 2019, but the rates vary across the bloc from 28.7 per cent in Bulgaria to 6.4 per cent in Sweden, according to Eurostat, the EU’s office of statistics.
2.3 billion people remain at risk from tobacco use
Globally, around 71 per cent of the world’s population is now protected by at least one measure to help reduce tobacco smoking, according to the WHO’s new report.
That is five times more than in 2007, the organisation said, as smoking rates have declined globally.
But there is much more that can be done to stamp out smoking, WHO experts warned.
“Still 2.3 billion people in 44 countries remain unprotected by any evidence-based demand reduction tobacco control measures, leaving them at risk of the health and economic burden of tobacco use,” said Dr Ruediger Krech, WHO’s health promotion director.
“And 53 countries still do not have complete smoking bans in healthcare facilities. That is a no-go and completely unacceptable".
Of the 8.7 million people who die globally of smoking, around 1.3 million deaths are among people who do not use tobacco including infants and children, WHO said.
“Smoke-free environments save lives by reducing exposure to second-hand smoke as well as by bringing about changes in social norms,” wrote Krech in the foreword of the WHO report.
“When smoking bans work, private spaces are more likely to become smoke-free, more smokers are motivated to quit and fewer children are tempted to try smoking”.
WHO’s director-general Dr Tedros added that the tobacco industry’s promotion of e-cigarettes as a safer alternative has undermined progress in reducing smoking.
“Young people, including those who never previously smoked, are a particular target,” he said in the report.
“In fact, e-cigarettes are harmful to both the people using them and those around them, especially when used indoors,” he added.