health advocates open new fronts in war on tobacco
December 6, 2016
VIENNA, Austria –
Efforts to control tobacco as a public health threat have escalated as
clinicians and public health advocates have coalesced to beat back
threats from tobacco companies through public advocacy, public health,
and pension reform. Today, public health advocates from Brazil,
Malaysia, Ireland, Australia, and Uruguay presented different
strategies that have effectively reigned in the global threat of
tobacco companies at a press briefing held at IASLC 17th World
Conference on Lung Cancer (WCLC).
As a young doctor treating
lung cancer patients at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in
Melbourne, Australia, Dr. Bronwyn King was dismayed to see the impact
of cigarette smoking on her patients – many of whom had started
smoking as children. However, her surprise grew when she discovered
that her hospital's pension fund had invested her money in the very
tobacco products that were killing her patients.
"Once I discovered that
through my compulsory pension fund, I was invested in and actually
owned a part of several tobacco companies, I couldn't just do nothing
– I had to take action," she said.
To accomplish this, Dr. King
Tobacco Free Portfolios to
collaboratively engage with leaders of the finance sector to encourage
tobacco-free investment. She soon found that finance executives were
also alarmed at the scale of the tobacco problem and have deeply
re-considered the role they can play in addressing this pressing
"Because of this, there are
now 35 tobacco-free pension funds in Australia – just over 40 percent
of all funds. Many more will soon follow and each tobacco-free
announcement is met with resounding public support," she said.
In Ireland, the tobacco
industry claimed that environmental tobacco smoke was not harmful to
public health, but the Irish government rejected this claim and
instituted a comprehensive workplace smoking ban that included bars,
restaurants, bingo halls, and casinos, according to Dr. Luke Clancy of
the TobaccoFree Research Institute in Dublin, Ireland. Ireland was the
first country to enact a country-wide ban.
"The 2004 smoking ban in
Ireland has shown a positive impact on public health and has served as
a model for other European countries to follow," said Dr. Clancy of
the TobaccoFree Research Institute in Dublin, Ireland.
Clancy reported that the
planning and investment paid off, as the national Irish smoking ban
was associated with reductions in early mortality. Studies on the
effects of the smoking ban demonstrated a 13 percent decrease in
all-cause mortality, a 26 percent reduction in ischemic heart disease,
a 32 percent reduction in stroke, and a 38 percent reduction in
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
While King and Clancy battle
tobacco interests in their countries, Dr. Zarihah Zain of Lincoln
University College Malaysia is carefully examining global trade
agreements to make sure tobacco products are treated like the
dangerous, addictive products they are.
"The main objective of any
global trade agreement is to encourage the free movement of goods and
service between countries by removal of any forms of tariff and
non-tariff barriers. However, when this principle is applied to
tobacco products, public health may suffer in the countries governed
by these very agreements," Dr. Zain said.
"Tobacco is not like any
legal commodity, it is highly addictive, causes deaths, precipitates
serious debilitating morbidity, and accounts for about 30 percent of
all cancer incidence. An industry such as the tobacco industry should
not be given any privileges and should not be allowed to benefit from
trade agreements to gain hefty profits at the expense of public
health," Dr. Zain said.
The control of tobacco is
one of the most cost effective public health strategies, and tobacco
is the only legal consumer product that has an international law to
curb its supply and demand via the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco
Control (FCTC). However, Zain pointed out that there are clauses in
many free trade agreements that can override the WHO Framework.
Vera da Costa e Silva from
the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control began the press
briefing by providing a global perspective on tobacco control and
initiatives to counter tobacco company efforts to create trade
treaties that are bad for public health.
"I hope everyone in the
world is soon free of tobacco smoke and that people encounter bars,
restaurants, and public facilities that are smoke-free," she said.
Tobacco control plays an
important role in the IASLC 17th World Conference on Lung Cancer. The
IASLC is proud to have a committee comprised of world-renowned tobacco
control experts from so many countries.