WHO report gives India high marks for fighting tobacco use

A new report by the World Health Organisation on the global use of tobacco shows India, Bangladesh and Bhutan on top of the list of South East Asian countries that have achieved a high level of tobacco control.

The prevalence of tobacco use in India has fallen from 34.1 per cent to 28.6 per cent over the last seven years, the report says, comparing data from two rounds of the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) in 2009-10 and 2016-17.

The WHO report titled Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2017: Monitoring Tobacco Use and Prevention Policies, was released in New York on Wednesday on the sidelines of the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. The report covers 194 countries, divided into The Americas, South East Asia, Europe, Eastern Mediterranean, Western Pacific, and Africa. There are 11 countries in the South East Asia group, including India.

Though the population worldwide protected by tobacco control measures has grown almost five-fold than ten years ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday called on countries to do more to prioritise these life-saving policies.

In India, Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Pune, Surat, Kanpur, Jaipur, Lucknow and Nagpur are among the top 100 cities across the world named for the strict implementation of policies to prevent tobacco use. The report lists the cities population-wise, using figures published in the UN Statistics Division's Demographic Yearbook.

Globally, the WHO report said about 4.7 billion people, or 63 per cent of the world's population, are covered today by at least one comprehensive tobacco control measure.  Ten years ago, in 2007, the number was only one billion, or 15 per cent of the world's population.

However, tobacco use has still become the leading single preventable cause of death worldwide, killing over seven million people each year.

Its economic costs are also enormous, totalling more than $1.4 trillion in healthcare and lost productivity, according to WHO.

Meanwhile, the tobacco industry continues to hamper government efforts to fully implement life- and cost-saving interventions, by, for example, exaggerating the economic importance of the tobacco industry, discrediting proven science, and using litigation to intimidate governments, the report says.

Poor countries ahead
More than half of the top national performers on tobacco control are low- and middle-income countries, showing that progress is possible regardless of economic situation. A tracking of MPOWER measures - introduced by WHO in 2007 to assist in the country-level implementation of measures to reduce the demand for tobacco - has revealed that the number of people protected by at least one best-practice measure has quadrupled to 4.7 billion - or almost two-thirds of the world's population.

As many as 121 out of 194 countries have introduced at least one MPOWER measure at the highest level of achievement (not including monitoring or mass media campaigns, which are assessed separately).

Thirty-four countries with a total population of 2 billion have adopted large graphic pack warnings. Six countries (Afghanistan, Cambodia, El Salvador, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Romania and Uganda) have adopted new laws making all indoor public places and workplaces smoke-free. Six countries (El Salvador, Estonia, India, Jamaica, Luxembourg and Senegal) have advanced to best-practice level with their tobacco use cessation services, the report says.

India and Nepal are regional and global leaders in implementing large, pictorial warning labels on tobacco packaging. With the increase in the size of pack warnings to 85 per cent of both front and back panels on all tobacco products, India now has the third largest pack warning label among all countries.

The findings of GATS-2 showed that graphic warning labels depicting throat cancer and oral cancer are a strong tool to discourage the youth from initiating tobacco, and have motivated 275 million current users to quit.

Dr Vinayak Prasad, Geneva-based head of the WHO Tobacco Free Initiative, told The Indian Express that among the many measures to control tobacco in India was the joint WHO-International Telecommunication Union initiative mCessation, launched in 2015 with the Ministries of Health and Family Welfare and Communication and Information Technology. ''The programme to encourage people to quit tobacco use registered more than two million users last year and the initial evaluation showed that more than 7% quit successfully after six months,'' Dr Prasad said.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), the first international treaty negotiated under the auspices of WHO, was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2003, and entered into force in 2005. It has since become one of the most widely embraced treaties in UN history.