The Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control

Tobacco Control omitted from global development priorities

By Shana Narula
Program Consultant, ASH (US)

Who could not know about the harm caused by tobacco when we're celebrating World No Tobacco Day today, I thought as I prepared for an event at UN headquarters on May 31. But as I soon learned, I was wrong.

At the event, the release of the much-anticipated Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, tobacco control was not even mentioned among the interventions proposed to address the world's development challenges. But isn't an epidemic that kills roughly 6 million people each year a serious problem, particularly if this number is predicted to rise to 8 million by 2030? 

With less than two years until the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire, discussions are underway on what should replace them. Tobacco was excluded from the negotiations back in 2000 that resulted in the original MDGs. Some argue that as a consequence, tobacco control receives very little attention outside of a few health ministries. Despite the fact that there are 176 Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), tobacco control remains under resourced, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

It is easy to find excuses as to why tobacco control was omitted from discussions in 2000. Maybe the threats of tobacco use were not understood well enough or a global consensus on solutions was lacking. Regardless, these arguments do not apply today:

  • Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease and death and the only risk factor common to the four main groups of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – one of the major threats to development in this century. (The panel's report did recognize the huge threat posed by NCDs);
  • Apart from its health impacts, tobacco robs families of resources that would otherwise go to shelter, food, education and health care; it causes poverty within households and reduces productivity at the national level;
  • Solutions to address tobacco use are simple and easily available through implementation of the WHO FCTC, which now has 176 Parties and covers nearly 88 percent of the world's population.

Unfortunately, while these arguments are well known in the tobacco control community, they don't seem to have reached many of the people who will have a say on the next set of development goals. This is even more disappointing because the high-level panel's report released last week recommends that ensuring healthy lives should be a key goal of future development.

Where does this leave us? Either we can let the world make the same mistake again and forget about getting tobacco on the development agenda, or we do everything possible from now until September 2015 to convince decision-makers that it is too important to be left out. For me the answer is easy: I'm starting work now to change some minds. For a start that means:

  • Making sure that I have written in my vote for "tobacco control" at My World 2015 (under 'Suggest a Priority');
  • Sharing this news with my tobacco control colleagues via the Twitter and Facebook accounts of ASH;
  • Writing a letter to a tobacco control focal point or minister of health. (See sample letter here);
  • Re-watching the release of the report again here (if I can restrain my frustration).

Read more:

Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda

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