Tobacco use on decline but govts must intensify action: WHO

The rate of tobacco use is declining and non-smoking is becoming the new norm worldwide, the WHO has said.

Dubai: The rate of tobacco use is declining and non-smoking is becoming the new norm worldwide, the WHO has said.

The number of non-smokers has increased but governments worldwide must intensify their efforts to dramatically reduce their consumption and protect public health, according to a new WHO Global Report on Trends in Tobacco Smoking.

The report, launched yesterday during the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH) in Abu Dhabi, finds there were 3.9 billion non-smokers aged 15 years and above in WHO member states, 78 per cent of the 5.1 billion population, in 2010.

This number is projected to rise to 5 billion, or 81 per cent of the projected 6.1 billion by 2025 if the current pace of tobacco cessation continues, it said.

But much greater action is needed to curb the tobacco epidemic if the global target to cut tobacco consumption by 30 per cent by 2025 is to be met, the report says.

"In an ominous trend, in some countries the battle between tobacco and health has moved into the courts," said Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General.

Chan said governments wishing to protect their citizens through larger pictorial warnings on cigarette packs are being intimidated by industry's threats of costly litigation.

"This is an effort to deprive governments of their sovereign right to legislate in the public interest. We will push back hard," she said.

A new study on global trends and projections for tobacco use published in The Lancet ahead of the WCTOH found that the prevalence of men smoking tobacco products has fallen in 125 countries between 2000 and 2010, and in 156 nations for women.

"The global movement against the tobacco epidemic is strong, and the downward trends in tobacco use are a testament to that fact," said Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, Head of the WHO FCTC Secretariat.

"We see many countries are taking steps to beat back the influence of the tobacco industry. But if we are to achieve targets set by governments to reduce tobacco consumption by 30 per cent by 2025, intensified action will be needed to implement all the provisions of the WHO FCTC."

Improving tobacco control is one of the keys to addressing non-communicable diseases (NCDs), it said.

"By curbing access to and controlling, with a view to ending, the addictive use of tobacco, countries will witness a dramatic reduction in premature deaths from NCDs," said Ala Alwan, Regional Director of WHO's Eastern Mediterranean office.