Every year on 31 May, we mark World No Tobacco Day to highlight the risks associated with tobacco use and to advocate for effective policies to reduce tobacco use. The theme for this year’s commemoration is “Ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship”.
It draws attention to the wrong message of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship that portray the image that tobacco use is a fashionable or a desirable social habit. This impedes efforts to educate people about the harms of tobacco use. The many forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship create an illusion that tobacco is just an ordinary consumer product, and hides the fact that it is a product that kills.
Tobacco kills up to one half of all users and remains one of the leading preventable causes of death. In fact tobacco kills nearly six million people each year worldwide, and of these more than 600,000 are those exposed to second-hand smoke.
In the African Region, current tobacco use is about 11.5% for both sexes. Among the youth, 18% currently use tobacco products and the use of tobacco products other than cigarettes is 11.6%. About half of these youths (48.2%) are also exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke in public places.
A total ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship is a powerful tool to combat tobacco use.
During the past years, countries in the Region took significant steps in tobacco control through the ratification and implementation of the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control. The Convention calls for a total ban on all forms of commercial communication, recommendation or action and all forms of contribution to any event, activity or individual with the aim, effect, or likely effect of promoting a tobacco product or tobacco use either directly or indirectly.
Progress in comprehensively banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship is slow in the African Region. Five countries have comprehensive bans that cover all forms of direct and indirect advertising. Another 22 countries have bans on national television, radio and the print medium for tobacco advertising only. However, this level of ban is still insufficient to protect people from tobacco advertising and marketing.
Evidence shows that a total ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship could decrease tobacco consumption by about 7%, independent of other tobacco control interventions. Therefore, banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship is a proven and effective measure to reduce the harmful effects of tobacco in society.
Today, as we observe World No Tobacco Day 2013, I urge Member States to take concrete steps to ensure that any form of recommendation or action or commercial communication aimed at promoting a tobacco product directly or indirectly is banned.
Civil society has a central role to play to help educate the population on the dangers of tobacco and raise community awareness on the need to eliminate tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
The general public should reject all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. It is important to monitor and report not only the traditional forms of direct advertising through media such as television, radio, print publications and billboards, but also indirect forms such as displays at point-of-sale and tobacco industry-sponsored social programmes. With the support of the public, policy-makers will be motivated to take even stronger measures to protect the population from the dangers of tobacco.
Let us continue to work to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke.