The year 2020 brought much needed attention to social justice, and placed the right to health front and center in global public health. In a matter of months, we saw the world come to a halt because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, a pandemic that has made it even clearer that the marketing and selling of a lethal and addictive product like cigarettes puts not only individuals at risk, but nations’ health systems too. Furthermore, it has become increasingly clear that the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the tobacco pandemic, disproportionately impact the most vulnerable members of society.
The World Health Organization and nations around the world have recognized the deadly combination of COVID-19 and smoking, and as a result some countries have taken measures to protect their citizens from this deadly combination. But more needs to be done for countries to effectively realize the globally recognized “right to the highest attainable standard of health.”
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which monitors the implementation of one of the most important human rights treaties, clarified 20 years ago that, “health is a fundamental human right indispensable for the exercise of other human rights. Every human being is entitled to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health conducive to living a life in dignity.”
Clearly, the actions of the tobacco industry – selling a product that kills more than 8 million people every year and attacking governments all over the world when they try to pass life-saving legislation to reduce smoking – are an obstacle to social justice and our collective right to health.
The ASH team and its allies around the world have been extremely active in 2020 to protect all of us from the harms caused by the tobacco industry. Because of social distancing restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 epidemic, we modified the way we work, but we did not skip a beat.