Changing our tobacco control strategy in Latin America

04 Mar 2015

Under the influence of the FCTC, in the last 10 years many Latin America countries made huge advances in passing comprehensive tobacco control laws. Unfortunately, levels of FCTC implementation differ greatly among countries, as does progress on reducing tobacco use prevalence.


In addition, the entire region faces challenges which may undermine the tobacco control gains achieved so far. Among these challenges are: lack of sufficient resources, weak multi-sectoral coordination, disappearing political will to do more and an ever-present tobacco industry determined to undermine any government effort.

Portraying tobacco use as a “tremendous health threat” might have motivated officials in ministries of heath to act, but it has so far failed to generate a whole-of-government response that would include their colleagues in other ministries. This needs to change if we want to turn the tide on the NCD epidemic.

Faced with that challenge, in the past 12 months, FCA members in three countries – Colombia, Peru and Uruguay – took a number of steps to redefine the image of tobacco control. Instead of referring solely to its health benefits, we highlighted how implementing the FCTC can contribute to national development.

One of the specific objectives of this project was to have governments include tobacco control among their national development objectives. Our strategy was to have governments designate tobacco control as a development priority, so that both they and international development partners would step up their commitments to tobacco control.

Breaking new ground

As a first step, we needed to break new ground: learn who the key players are among development agencies, which ministries work on national development and who from the government assembles the national development plan. When we managed to put all those pieces together, we started to interact with development professionals, such as Residential Coordinators at national United Nations offices.

While the headquarters of both the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and WHO have already issued letters directing staff to proactively address NCDs and support FCTC implementation, gaps remain at country level. The situation is even more challenging at national development agencies.

Tobacco taxation

On the positive side, over the past months we have been able to establish a relationship with the regional UNDP team. We held several meetings and coordination calls, with recent discussions focusing on tobacco control as a strategy to achieve sustainable development. Tobacco control not only contributes to building healthier populations; one of its key measures – tobacco taxation – will also result in increased tax revenue for national governments.

These are just initial steps in the region to alert development partners to the issue of tobacco use as a development challenge, and to introduce tobacco control as a strategy for overcoming it.

With the newly released joint Guidance note from WHO and UNDP on the Integration of NCDs into the UN Development Assistance Framework promoting tobacco control as a key part of national development plans may become easier. We still, however, need to build our skills and share our experience.

To this end, FCA members from Latin America will hold a regional webinar in March on Tobacco and Development.

* NCDs cause nearly 2/3 of global deaths today, and it is estimated that they will cost the world economy US$30 trillion by 2031. Tobacco use is the one risk factor common to four major NCDs: cancers, cardiovascular and lung disease, and diabetes.

Get involved

  • If you are interested in learning more about FCA’s work on tobacco as a development issue in Latin America, contact Eduardo at biancoe(at)
  • See more about this work on our Campaign page.


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