A new report from WHO/Europe, “European tobacco use – trends report 2019”, offers confirmation that tobacco use remains a public health issue of utmost importance. This is particularly true in the WHO European Region, which has the highest proportion of tobacco use in the world, with an estimated 209 million people (or 29%) smoking. Launched on World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) 2019, the report examines health impacts, prevalence of tobacco use and health systems’ response.
This year’s WNTD campaign focuses on tobacco and lung health, aiming to raise awareness about the negative impact of tobacco on people’s lung health and the cost-effective, feasible solutions that can help reduce the risk to lung health posed by tobacco. The report notes that almost 9 in 10 deaths (including premature deaths) from trachea, bronchus and lung cancer in the European Region are related to tobacco. In other words, 90% of lung cancers could be avoided by eliminating tobacco use.
The report reveals many other concerning trends that underscore the need for strong action on tobacco control, including the following:
- 18% of noncommunicable disease (NCD) deaths were attributable to tobacco use in 2018 in the European Region, meaning almost 1 in 5 premature NCD deaths could be avoided by eliminating tobacco use.
- The proportion of NCD deaths due to tobacco was 4 times higher for men (28%) than women (7%), which should be reflected in gender-sensitive prevention and control strategies.
- 27% of cancer deaths were attributable to tobacco use in 2018.
- 21% of women (74 million) currently smoke in the European Region, the highest percentage globally, and changing this trend requires further definition and implementation of gender-responsive strategies.
- Tobacco-use prevalence among adults and children remains high, but it appears to be decreasing – although, not uniformly.
- While encouraging, the decrease in tobacco use is not enough to reach the 30% reduction target set in the Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases in the WHO European Region 2016–2025 – this will be feasible, but only if countries place greater attention on continuing and enhancing tobacco prevention and control efforts by making full use of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and its guidelines.
“There is a huge potential to improve health by implementing policies that we know are effective, such as increasing taxation, using plain packaging, banning advertising and eliminating exposure to second-hand smoke. Without countries taking action, we will miss the opportunity to use tobacco control as a major lever for improving public health,” said Kristina Mauer-Stender, Programme Manager for Tobacco Control at WHO/Europe. “The trends report reveals some key opportunities for action, for example addressing tobacco control in countries where women have not yet started to smoke.”
The report emphasizes the need for Member States to intensify preventive action, from health interventions, to marketing, to fiscal policy and stronger regulation. Countries should consider embedding tobacco control in the sustainable development agenda and approaching it from a human rights perspective. This can help open doors to new partners and expand the tobacco control community beyond ministries of health and public health organizations. Such new avenues for tobacco control could encourage the use of previously underutilized and powerful instruments that generate support for tobacco control measures.