High-level speakers open the conference – at a crossroads for tobacco control

On the first day of WCTOH, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, South Africa Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases Michael R. Bloomberg and Head of the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva warn against Big Tobacco’s increasing efforts to undermine global advances in tobacco control.

“The tobacco industry is targeting low- and middle-income countries -- that’s why it’s so important that the conference is here,” said Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus. “The focus must be on accelerating the WHO FCTC. Now is the time for all countries to live up to their commitments and comply with their obligations. Tobacco wrecks health and is a drain on economies and the environment. It tears families apart. And it is entirely preventable.”

Dr Aaron Motsolaedi, who officially opened the conference at the opening plenary, said: “Our continent of Africa is specifically being targeted by the tobacco industry. The conference theme, uniting the world for a tobacco free generation is so appropriate here – we have a growing and youthful population. The youth are special targets. The main purpose of the tobacco industry is to maximise profits at the expense of often vulnerable people. Our fight now is not just against tobacco, it’s a fight for humanity.”

Michael R. Bloomberg addressed the conference saying: “Bloomberg Philanthropies has worked with partners on tobacco control for over a decade. This work has led to around 35 million lives saved. But tobacco companies are doing everything they can to circumvent our efforts and keep people addicted to nicotine. Shame on us for not doing more. We must stop tobacco companies from sharing their erroneous information.”

Speaking at the opening press conference, Michael R. Bloomberg announced the creation of STOP, a new global tobacco watchdog to monitor and expose tobacco industry interference in public health policy.

Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva said: “We have come a long way. Travelling through a country that still allows tobacco advertising now feels like a journey into the past. But we must not become complacent. Success is not even across the world. We must not give ground to the tobacco industry.”

Today the WHO FCTC secretariat will launch an e-learning tool for governments on Article 19 of the treaty – how to hold the tobacco industry liable. Speakers at the opening plenary encouraged governments to sign the WHO FCTC Protocol to Eliminate Iliicit Trade in Tobacco Products – which now needs just six more signatory countries in order for it come into force.

In her welcome to Cape Town and to Africa at the opening plenary, President of the WCTOH 2018 Dr Flavia Senkubuge, said:

“Our gains in tobacco control have been significant, among them the FCTC. But key tobacco challenges have also become increasingly significant, particularly issues of industry interference. As we gather together to discuss how we can control these, we should be mindful of the fact that the continent where we gather is one of the main targets of the tobacco industry. But it is also the continent where prevention and ultimately a win can be achieved.”

José Luis Castro, Executive Director of The Union, the WCTOH secretariat, said at the opening plenary:

“The day when tobacco no longer claims lives is a day we can realise – but only through our commitment and determination, no matter what the odds against us are. We must truly follow our theme and ‘unite the world for a tobacco free generation.’”

The importance of this theme was reflected by the presentation of the declaration of the WCTOH pre-youth conference during the opening plenary affirming their commitment to the fight against tobacco.