National Consultation on Accelerating Implementation of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control for achievement of Sustainable Development Goals

8 June 2017, New Delhi, India

Hon’ble Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Mr Jagat Prakash Nadda; Hon’ble Minister of State Mr Faggar Singh Kulaste; Hon’ble Minister of State Ms Anupriya Patel; Dr Jagdish Prasad; Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi; Dr Henk Bekedam; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

In the 20th century tobacco killed 100 million people. 100 million parents, siblings colleagues and friends. All of them gone before their time. 100 million people from all walks of life that needn’t have died as and when they did. Their absence is a loss each of us shares.

Every year we commemorate World No Tobacco Day to highlight this unacceptable toll and the need to reverse it. We note that as deadly as last century was, current trends will result in one billion deaths in the present century.

Indeed, every year we speak of our Region’s colossal burden – how South-East Asia is home to 26% of the world’s population, yet accounts for 80% of smokeless tobacco use. We lament that regional smoking rates accounts for a quarter of global consumption, compounding tobacco’s deadly embrace.

Every year we underscore tobacco’s catastrophic effect on health. We note with frustration that tobacco-related illness is a drain on scarce health resources, at the same time as inhibiting labor power and economic growth.

However, our Region’s centuries-long tobacco epidemic will only be reversed through one thing: action.

To this end, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control has provided critical support. As you know, the FCTC was devised as a direct response to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic. It is the first global health treaty negotiated under the auspices of WHO and represents a paradigmatic shift in addressing global health issues.

Importantly, the FCTC takes the discussion beyond public health. It makes specific mention of tobacco’s impact on poverty – how it increases inequalities across a range of social indicators. It documents tobacco’s impact on the environment – how it depletes soil nutrients and contributes to deforestation. And it emphasizes the catastrophic impact tobacco use has on national economies, whether through a diminished labor force, lost productivity or increased health costs.

India’s progress is of particular note. Indeed, India’s embrace of the FCTC and MPOWER strategy, alongside its commitment and drive, is catalyzing real change in a country that is the world’s second-largest consumer of tobacco products.

The leadership shown by His Excellency, Mr Jagat Prakash Nadda, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, is in large part responsible. I extend my warmest congratulations to His Excellency for receiving this year’s World No Tobacco Day award. Your work has been truly exceptional.

In India today, 85% of all tobacco packs are covered by graphic health warnings. This is the most direct way of communicating tobacco’s harmful effects, and a proven means of encouraging people to quit or avoid taking up the habit.

In India today, dedicated funds for tobacco awareness campaigns have been allocated, and path-breaking initiatives such as the ‘tobacco-free movie’ rule are being implemented. We know the force public messaging has, and its potential to inspire fundamental change in behavioral expectations and norms.

India is one of the few countries to have a dedicated National Tobacco Control Programme – the NTCP. It is the home of the Global Knowledge Hub on Smokeless Tobacco, and last year hosted the Seventh Session of the Conference of the Parties – the COP-7. It is now the President of the WHO FCTC Conference of the Parties Bureau. India is, in short, a committed tobacco control partner.

There are two areas I want to highlight.

The first is taxation of tobacco products. A substantial body of evidence demonstrates that higher taxes lead to reductions in tobacco use. Therefore, taxation of tobacco products should be simplified and increased. Doing so will discourage the uptake and continued use of tobacco, and will also help recoup the cost it inflicts on all of society.

The second relates to tobacco advertising. Though countries have sought to curb tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, indirect and surrogate marketing continues. Even where legislation is comprehensive, weak enforcement means tobacco branding is often displayed at points of sale. Non-tobacco-products can also be found promoting brand loyalty. All forms of direct and indirect advertising must end.

I started by highlighting the millions of people that died as a result of tobacco use in the 20th century. It is a toll that belies comprehension. Though we are still in the initial decades of the 21st century, the choices we make now will define what tobacco’s toll looks like moving forward.

So I ask you: At the end of this century will tobacco kill the one billion people it is projected to? Or will we take the steps necessary to contain that number and work towards a tobacco-free future?

More immediately, will we implement the policies needed to promote better health and a stronger and more prosperous workforce? The policies needed to create a cleaner and more fertile environment? Indeed, the tobacco control policies needed to develop, prosper and thrive at a time of unrivalled opportunity?

We know there can only be one answer. I thank you for appreciating what is at stake, and making the necessary choices. Your willingness to act, and to do so boldly is to be commended. As always, WHO is ready and able to support.

I once again congratulate His Excellency for receiving the WHO Director General’s special recognition award on this World No Tobacco Day, and wish you all an informative and inspiring day. Through our joint effort we can free ourselves of tobacco’s onerous and costly burden, and create a healthier, cleaner and more prosperous South-East Asia Region.

Thank you very much.