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WHO launches new report on the global tobacco epidemic

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Despite progress, increased action needed to help people quit deadly tobacco products

Cairo, Egypt, 28 July 2019 – Many governments are making progress in the fight against tobacco. Today, 5 billion people are living in countries that have introduced effective tobacco control measures such as smoking bans and graphic warnings on packaging – 4 times more people than a decade ago. However, the latest WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic shows many countries are still not adequately implementing tobacco control policies that can save lives, including policies that help people to quit tobacco.

The 2019 report shows that more than half of the countries in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region (14 out of 22 countries) are implementing policies to help people quit. Three countries (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates) are fully implementing cessation support policies at the highest level, 17 countries are providing fully or partially cost-covered cessation services in some or most health facilities, and 2 countries offer cessation services but do not cost-cover them. This demonstrates a high level of public demand for support to quit using tobacco products.

The WHO report analyses national efforts to implement the most effective measures of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which are proven to reduce the demand for tobacco. These interventions, such as the “MPOWER” measures, have been shown to save lives and reduce costs from averted health care expenditure.

Tobacco cessation services must be stepped up

The seventh “WHO Report on the global tobacco epidemic” focuses on progress countries have made in helping tobacco users to quit. Data for the Eastern Mediterranean Region show that progress in this area has been stagnating. Only 3 countries in the Region are providing cessation services at the best-practice level. Overall, 17 of the 22 countries have maintained their level of implementation/achievement, while 2 countries show improvement in implementing policies to help people quit tobacco. However, the other 3 countries show a drop in provision of cessation services.

“We acknowledge the achievements made in the Region in fighting the tobacco epidemic. However, the low level of progress in some countries is indeed worrying,” said Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean. “Pressure from the tobacco industry and its front groups makes it very challenging for countries to sustain their previous achievements. Other issues include a lack of public awareness and the absence of media campaigns”.

The MPOWER package provides governments with practical tools to help people quit tobacco, and to help put an end to people dying prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses.

Cessation services are the most under-implemented MPOWER measure in terms of the number of countries offering full coverage. Although the Region is moving towards stronger implementation of some tobacco control measures, such as tobacco-free public places, it is also important to provide population alternatives to tobacco use through cessation services. This is one of the key recommendations of the WHO FCTC to reduce the demand for tobacco. It is vital for countries in the Region to start working towards full integration of these services into primary health care, given that 19 of 22 countries are Parties to the WHO FCTC.

“Helping people to quit can save them from dying prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses,” said Dr Al-Mandhari. “It is therefore critical for governments to provide cessation services to help people protect their health and successfully quit using tobacco”. Tobacco cessation services include national toll-free quit lines, “mCessation” services to reach larger numbers of people via mobile phones, counselling by primary health care providers, and cost-covered nicotine replacement therapy.

Currently, there are an estimated 1.1 billion smokers worldwide, around 80% of whom live in low- and middle-income countries. While trends in tobacco use are showing progress in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, prevalence data in some countries are a cause for concern. Tobacco use has declined in most countries, but population growth means the total number of people using tobacco has remained stubbornly high. In the Region, the prevalence of tobacco use among youth is particularly worrying, especially among girls. Waterpipe smoking is the most prevalent form of tobacco use among this group.

“It is important that all countries look seriously into strengthening implementation of the WHO FCTC and the 6 MPOWER measures to reduce the demand for tobacco,” said Dr Al-Mandhari. “These have proven successful in many countries of the world, and will enable countries in this Region to achieve the target they have committed to – to reduce tobacco prevalence by 30% by 2025”.


Note to editors

What is MPOWER?

The MPOWER package was launched in 2008 to promote government action on 6 tobacco control strategies, in line with the WHO FCTC. The 6 components are:

 Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies

  • Protect people from tobacco smoke
  • Offer help to quit tobacco use
  • Warn people about the dangers of tobacco
  • Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
  • Raise taxes on tobacco.            

 Full report