Many Americans believe that the war on tobacco has been won, but the fact is the number of smokers is climbing globally. The World Health Organization estimates that 100 million people died as a result of tobacco use in the 20th century, a staggering figure. But unless we take greater action, the death toll in the 21st century is expected to be 1 billion.
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), in partnership with Legacy, recently released a new report; “A Half Century of Avoidable Death: A Global Perspective on Tobacco in America” (“Avoidable Death”) which examines U.S. tobacco control efforts in the fifty years since the release of the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health – viewed through a global lense. The report comes on the heels of World No Tobacco Day – a day that is intended to draw global attention to the harms associated with tobacco and to advocate for stronger tobacco control policies.
In the mid-1990s, the world began to respond to the growing tobacco epidemic, eventually launching negotiations for the world’s first public health treaty: the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The FCTC is unique – it is the only treaty focusing solely on health, and the only one focusing on a particular product, tobacco. This is in recognition of the uniqueness of tobacco – the only consumer product that, when used exactly as intended, kills.
The FCTC treaty includes measures such as taxation, smoke-free air, package warning labels, public education, cessation, and legal liability for the tobacco industry. The FCTC was completed in 2003, and today 177 countries representing about 90 percent of the global population have ratified it. While the U.S. joined in the unanimous adoption of the text in 2003, and signed in 2004, it has never submitted the treaty to the U. S. Senate for formal ratification. The United States has not ratified the FCTC.
The “Avoidable Death” report considers U.S. activities with regard to six articles from the FCTC, all dealing with a different aspect of tobacco control. The report compares U.S. cigarette prices and taxes with those abroad, examines smoke-free air laws in Ireland, discusses plain packaging in Australia, considers point of sale bans in Norway, highlights successful public education campaigns from around the world, and spotlights the recent tobacco “corporate social responsibility” ban in Mauritius.
The intention of the “Avoidable Death” report is to use international examples to illustrate successes in tobacco control around the world and to inspire positive changes in the United States. The report helps to highlight the FCTC in the fight against the tobacco epidemic and highlights how international victories can be considered as case studies for the U.S.
At present, the only true barrier to tobacco control is political will. Fifty years from now, in 2064, tobacco should be a topic of history.