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President's Column
March 2012

Louis James de Viel Castel

How far we have come.

Perhaps that thought is best reserved for next month, when the global tobacco control community will come together at the 15th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Singapore to review tobacco control’s progress and unfinished agenda.

Or perhaps stored away until 2014, when our still young organization marks its tenth anniversary.

But, even this early in the year, there is no postponing one thought: 2012 will be a year of meaningful milestones as we build on all that the tobacco control community has accomplished in a short time.

A mere six years ago, before the Bloomberg Initiative ignited a global movement to curb tobacco’s deadly devastation, we would never have thought it possible that we would soon see:

• More than one billion people now protected by smoke-free legislation or other effective tobacco control policies
• 303 tobacco laws drafted or for which consultations have been provided
• 21 countries passing 100% smoke-free laws
• A 400% increase in the percentage of people protected from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.
• Smoking rates in Hong Kong and Singapore poised to drop to single digit levels – making it reasonable for the first time in history to make the case that near elimination of tobacco in some societies is achievable

We all owe two immense debts of gratitude: to Bloomberg Philanthropies for entering the arena to enable the planning, organizing capacity, and coordinated strategy that has made this tremendous global change possible; and to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for following Bloomberg Philanthropies’ lead in addressing the greatest epidemic of our time.

Through our partnership with the Bloomberg Initiative, WLF has played its own part in exceeding expectations. Our organization has helped launch more than 80 mass media campaigns in 20 countries. These achievements have come in places like China, India, Egypt, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam -- some of the most difficult political environments for public health. Our support and technical expertise has brought clear information to millions about the harms of tobacco use, and boosted support for life-saving policies to curb it.

Our hard work will bear additional fruit in the near future. These milestones, all direct outcomes of our mass media work, are now imminent:

• One billion people around the world will have seen strong, effective anti-smoking messages made possible by WLF.
• First-ever campaigns will be completed in Bangladesh and Indonesia, with WLF’s support.
• First-ever national campaigns are nearing launch or under development in Indonesia, Russia and China – three countries that together account for one third of the world’s smokers.

Also at Singapore, WLF will co-publish with American Cancer Society the fourth edition of The Tobacco Atlas – a now indispensible tool to help civil society and governments take decisive action to reduce tobacco’s harms. The new edition updates global data and adds, for the first, analysis of the use of snus and e-cigarettes.

Later this year, too, the global tobacco control community will gather at the Conference of Parties in Seoul, South Korea to draw up guidelines for governments to protect their programs from tobacco industry interference.

Despite all this progress, we must remember that it is less than a decade since the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control — a landmark for global public health and international cooperation – was established as a road map of proven, effective tobacco control policies.

Let us also remember that much remains to be done.

Billions of people still live without the protection of effective tobacco control policies. More than 70% of the world’s population saw no national tobacco counter-advertising in the past two years. The powerful tobacco industry and its forces are intensifying their legal challenges – and spreading them to such new arenas such as international trade law.

Tobacco use continues to be the leading preventable cause of mortality in the world today. It is responsible for more than five million deaths each year, 80% of which occur in low and middle-income countries. It is responsible for one in ten preventable deaths worldwide and is also a primary contributor to the global non-communicable disease epidemic.

Yes, we have come far indeed. Let us be appreciative and proud of all that has been accomplished. But let us remain focused, proactive and energetic as we face the road ahead. I look forward to continuing the path forward with many of you in Singapore and beyond.



 
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