Twelve months ago, most of us would not have expected to see the world brought down to its knees by a virus that swept through the year killing more than 1.6 million people and halting local economies. This pandemic has placed the topic of health front and center in the public debate as it is testing national health systems overburdened by the demands imposed by COVID-19.
Then, add to it the continuous impact of tobacco on global health and global economies. Even at the best of times, with a yearly death toll of over 8 million and a cost to the global economy in excess of a trillion U.S. dollars, tobacco is a major burden to national health systems. But during a viral pulmonary pandemic that is aggravated by smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke, the impact of the tobacco industry on society is even more notable. For this reason, as we face COVID-19, it is even more important that we collectively do more to protect our human rights, rights that have been recognized at the highest level of international law, from the actions of the tobacco industry.
Let’s consider for example, the right to health. Most of us recognize that our health is one of our most valuable assets, but in addition, it is a right recognized in numerous international treaties and articulated as “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health” in the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. By aggressively selling and marketing cigarettes, a product that is addictive and lethal when used as intended, the tobacco industry continues to blatantly undermine the right to health of the citizens of the world. Furthermore, when governments take steps to protect their citizens and reduce smoking, the tobacco industry continues to fight governments from implementing these life saving measures. Clearly, the tobacco industry continues to demonstrate that its business model is a threat to global health and human rights. As the Danish Institute for Human Rights concluded a few years ago, “tobacco is deeply harmful to human health, and there can be no doubt that the production and marketing of tobacco is irreconcilable with the human right to health.”
Doing more to protect your right to health from the harms caused by the tobacco industry is exactly what we do at ASH.
I am extremely proud of my ASH colleagues as well as our partners in the U.S. and around the world who, despite COVID-19, have worked tirelessly this year to protect your health from the actions of the tobacco industry. To address the human rights implications of the global tobacco pandemic, we have been working across four key areas:
1.) Promoting and strengthening global best practices such as the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the global tobacco treaty that enshrines the baseline of what countries should do to stop the tobacco pandemic.
2.) Using the law to protect citizens from the tobacco industry.
3.) Promoting a local and global human rights approach to advance health.
4.) Promoting phasing out the sale of commercial tobacco products.
You can find out more about some of our 2020 achievements in here.
We will continue to fight in 2021 at the local and global level to protect your right to health against the financial interests of the tobacco industry. Our view is that the tobacco pandemic, which is caused by a handful of industries, is a totally preventable global pandemic that can be addressed during our lifetime.
With your help, we can make a world where no one has to die because of tobacco a reality.