In line with the upcoming Tenth session of the Conference (COP10) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) delegation, later this year; The Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA) has recently submitted a ‘Shadow Report’ to the Secretariat to provide alternate information and perspectives on the state of the implementation, particularly in the Asia Pacific and India.
A review of the biennial progress submissions, including the WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, show the inattention to safer alternatives in remedying tobacco harm. A key reveal is that while countries like India are considered as ‘model countries’ for tobacco control, yet, despite dedicated efforts by the government, the country has not seen a significant decline in smoking prevalence, making the government’s objective of 30% relative reduction in prevalence of current tobacco use by 2030 unrealistic. This marks an important discussion focus on the COP 10’23 table, with policy makers across the world.
Hence, the Indian delegation should consider these essentials while representing the country at the forum:
The State of Tobacco Control in India & Southeast Asia Pacific
Smoking of tobacco is a major public health concern worldwide, causing numerous diseases and premature deaths. According to the latest WHO numbers, it kills close to a staggering 9 million users each year.
Despite global & country specific interventions there are still over 1 billion smokers, today – the number largely remaining stagnant over the last decade. The economic impact of patient ‘cure’ through direct & indirect costs of smoking-related disease, is nearly $2 trillion annually.
WHO’s data itself corroborates that smoking is an alarming, persistent issue in Southeast Asia, whereby the Asian Region has the highest rates of tobacco use – more than 45% of the population. Indian itself has more than one hundred million smokers, with no reduction in recent years. This sadly reflects, in spite best efforts by countries at large – the inefficiency of the current tobacco control policies.
The Limits of WHO’s MPOWER
WHO launched ‘MPOWER,’ a ‘policy package to reverse the tobacco epidemic’ which establishes regulatory recommendations against which progress is monitored. However, the shadow study could not find evidence that adoption & implementation has reduced the rate of global cigarette consumption per adult.
The Untapped Weapon in the Tobacco Control Arsenal
Safer alternative as a concept is already in circulation. The global policy defines tobacco control as a range of supply, demand, and harm reduction strategies. This approach takes into consideration that smokers who cannot quit, can reduce their health risks if they completely switch from cigarettes to significantly less harmful alternatives.
Governments around the world including the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Canada are already using this approach. Safer alternatives are rooted in human rights and respects the dignity of the over one billion current smokers that the WHO treaty is designed to help. It focuses on helping smokers quit and, for those who do not, empowers them to make better decisions for themselves and for public health.
In their recommendations, the authors have advised WHO and policy makers from member states to prioritise science-based, inclusive policy making on Tobacco Control. They argue that it is essential to make policies on accurate & empirical evidence. By including better and safer alternatives and focusing on reducing smoking prevalence, they believe that the WHO can make progress towards its goal of reducing the global burden of tobacco related diseases and deaths.