This has been another fast-paced year in ASH’s fight to protect society from the harm caused by the tobacco industry. A year where we have seen much progress, reached new milestones, and marked major anniversaries though, unfortunately, also a year where we faced painful setbacks as the tobacco industry does all it can to keep its lethal tobacco products on the market.
This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), a legal agreement that forced major tobacco companies to pay for some tobacco-caused healthcare costs. Since 1998, U.S. smoking prevalence has been cut in half, from 24.1% to 11.5%.
This year also marked the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), whose key goal was to promote and protect fundamental rights. These rights, like the right to health and the right to a healthy environment, have been codified at the highest level of international law through human rights treaties and processes. But the tobacco industry, responsible annually for over 8 million deaths, for cutting down 600 million trees, for the production of 84 million tons of CO2, and for 4.5 trillion cigarette butts littered into the environment, is a clear obstacle to the right to health and the right to a healthy environment.
Much has changed since these key legal tools were developed to protect your right to health from being harmed by tobacco. When the UDHR was established, half of U.S. adults surveyed said they smoked cigarettes, cigarette consumption was raising rapidly, and smoking was permitted in virtually every public space.
Today, thanks to the efforts of ASH and our partners around the world, we have seen impressive progress towards curbing the tobacco epidemic.
Currently, US smoking prevalence is at 11.5% and 74 countries protect their citizens with comprehensive national smoke-free laws. This is progress, but far from completion, as too many people are still harmed by tobacco products.
That’s why, in 2023, ASH welcomed the pending implementation of new measures to protect the rights of citizens from tobacco products such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s proposed rule banning menthol cigarettes and the New Zealand Tobacco Endgame Law that included denicotinisation of smoked tobacco products, a major reduction in tobacco retail outlets, and a ban on the commercial sale of combustible tobacco products to anyone born after 2008.
But unfortunately, late this year, both of those major steps forward for public health hit roadblocks. The comprehensive commercial tobacco endgame Act in New Zealand is under threat of being repealed and the White House has quietly delayed the menthol rule to March 2024 or possibly later.
ASH has taken a leadership role in support of the New Zealand endgame policy with a joint op-ed calling on the new government to prioritize human life over tobacco industry profit, and we are working with partners to push the FDA to promulgate the menthol ban as quickly as possible. These are front-line initiatives in our broader strategy to build a world where no one dies because of tobacco.
These delays are in large part caused by the actions of the tobacco industry.
Government representatives from countries all over the world tell us time and again that the main obstacle to the implementation of life-saving tobacco control measures is the tobacco industry. ASH’s 2023 U.S. Tobacco Industry Lobbyist and Lobbying Firm Registration Tracker identified hundreds of tobacco lobbyists at every level of government and our 2023 U.S. Tobacco Industry Interference Index identified their tactics.
So, while we are making progress, much still needs to be done in 2024 if we want to see the effective implementation of life-saving tobacco endgame strategies in the U.S. and around the world.
Fortunately, 2024 also provides many opportunities. Register now for our webinar on January 11, 2024 to hear the ASH team review our priorities and opportunities for the year.
If, as a society, we have been able send humans to the moon, we should be able to remove from the market the only consumer good that kills when used as intended.
Join ASH in our efforts to achieve our vision of “a world free from the harm caused by tobacco.”