Sun | Feb 16, 2020

UN health agency says tobacco might be reaching ‘burn-out’ among Caribbean men

Published:Monday | December 23, 2019 | 12:57 AM


The United Nations health agency has signalled that tobacco might be reaching burn-out among Caribbean men, predicting that two decades of increasing tobacco use around the world are set to go into reverse.

“For the first time, the number of tobacco users is declining worldwide”, Dr Ruediger Krech, director of the Department of Health Promotion at the World Health Organization (WHO), told journalists in Geneva.

In 2018, there were slightly more than a billion males using tobacco around the world, “over 40 million more than in the year 2000”, he said.

“But now, for the first time, we are seeing declines in use, with WHO projecting that there will be at least two million fewer men using tobacco in 2020, and five million less by 2025,” he added.

Describing the development as a “powerful shift in the global tobacco epidemic” in view of the fact that more than four in five smokers are male, Krech said that it mirrors “consistent reductions” by 100 million women since the turn of the century.

“This progress proves that national tobacco control measures work,” Dr. Krech insisted, citing taxation and controlled smoking areas in public places and other legislation that prevents children from being exposed to tobacco.

Showing that tobacco use can be reversed should, also, give Caribbean and other governments confidence that they can meet the global target of a 30 per cent reduction in tobacco use by 2025, the WHO official maintained.

Despite the positive trend, however, he warned that the world is not on track to meet this target, noting also that more than eight million people die from tobacco use every year – about half of its users.

WHO said more than 7 million of those deaths are from direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million fatalities are non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke.

Intensive tobacco industry

In addition, WHO said that most tobacco-related deaths occur in low-and middle-income countries such as those in the Caribbean – areas that are targets of intensive tobacco industry interference and marketing.

“We cannot be satisfied with a slow decline when over a billion people are still using tobacco,” Dr. Krech said. “We must dramatically accelerate tobacco control measures to prevent current and future generations from tobacco use.”

By 2020, the WHO projects that there will be 10 million fewer tobacco users worldwide, male and female, compared to 2018, and another 27 million less by 2025 – a total of 1.299 billion.

According to the WHO’s global report on trends in prevalence of tobacco use 2000-2025, sixty per cent of countries have seen declining tobacco use since 2010.

In welcoming the development, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the reverse among men as a “turning point” in the fight against tobacco.

Crediting governments for “being tougher” on the tobacco industry, the WHO chief committed to continue working closely with countries “to maintain this downward trend”.

“Reductions in global tobacco use demonstrate that when governments introduce and strengthen their comprehensive evidence-based actions, they can protect the well-being of their citizens and communities,” Dr Krech added.

Without identifying them, WHO said that 15 countries in the Americas, which include the Caribbean, are on track to reach the 30 per cent tobacco use reduction target by 2030, “making it the best performing of WHO’s six regions” .