Message of Dr Luis G. Samba, the WHO Regional Director for Africa on the occasion of World No Tobacco Day May 31, 2008 Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death in the world. It is the only legal consumer product that kills one third to one half of those who use it as intended by its manufacturers, with victims dying 15 years prematurely.
As the tobacco industry intensifies its efforts to catch new, young and potentially life-long tobacco users, the health of a significant percentage of the world's youth is seriously threatened by these deadly products. More than 85% of the world's 1.8 billion young people living in developing countries are aggressively targeted by the tobacco industry. The rise in the use of tobacco products among girls and young women is one of the most ominous developments of the global tobacco epidemic.
Most people start smoking before the age of 18, and almost a quarter of these individuals begin using tobacco before the age of 10. The younger children are when they first try smoking, the more likely they are to become regular tobacco users and the less likely they are to quit. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance. Child and adolescent experimentation can easily lead to a lifetime of tobacco dependence. Young people underestimate the risk of becoming addicted to nicotine and the tragic health consequences that can follow.
The more exposed to tobacco advertising young people are, the more likely they are to use tobacco. It is clearly proven that exposure to direct and indirect pro-tobacco advertising, together with other marketing strategies, leads to an increase in experimentation by young people and, in turn, to the very real risk of their becoming regular users of tobacco products.
Widespread advertising portrays tobacco the same as other consumer products, making it difficult for young people to understand the hazards of its use.
A ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship is a powerful tool to protect youth and is one of the World Health Organization's strategies designed to combat tobacco use. Only total bans can break the tobacco marketing net.
Most countries of the WHO African Region have or are developing legislation that prohibits advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products.
However, it is all necessary to ensure effective implementation and enforce regulations and legislation.
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) has now been ratified by 35 countries of the African Region. It contains evidence-based policies for reducing tobacco use, describes the health impact of tobacco use and reflects a shared global commitment to action.
The implementation of policies and programmes should not target youth in isolation. Interventions that target the population as a whole, such as banning all forms of tobacco advertising, raising tobacco taxes, and creating 100% smoke-free environments, have the greatest success in reducing youth tobacco use.
We call on young people to get involved in a campaign to educate peers on how the tobacco industry uses advertising, promotion and sponsorship to persuade youth to smoke or use other forms of tobacco. Young people should let the policy-makers know that they advocate for a total ban on advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products countrywide.
All nongovernmental organizations involved in tobacco control and the general public should advocate for a complete ban on advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products.
In November 2008, the WHO African Region will host the third Conference of Parties in South Africa. This opportunity will promote multilateral actions to meet the transnational human developmental challenges posed by tobacco use.
On this occasion of the 2008 celebration of World No Tobacco Day, the WHO Regional Office for Africa urges countries to ratify or accede to the WHO FCTC as soon as possible, to fully implement and enforce its provisions, and to actively involve civil society in this process.
The WHO appeals to Member States and policy-makers to require by law a comprehensive ban on all forms of advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products. The Organization calls on NGOs to develop broad multisectoral coalitions to advocate for effective tobacco control policies; and the international community to increase technical, legal, financial cooperation to help tobacco-growing countries to transition towards economically-viable alternative livelihoods.