Smoking—alone—is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. and globally. According to the World Health Organization, tobacco kills nearly six million people each year and from that number, 600,000 who have never lit a cigarette die from second-hand smoke. By 2030, this number could reach eight million every year if the global community does not commit to developing effective, coherent policies to reduce tobacco consumption.
This year marks the sixty-sixth World Health Organization Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. As members from 194 countries convene to review the previous year’s progress, non-communicable disease, one of the World Health Organization’s top priorities, is being promoted and championed by the international public health community through the World No Tobacco day campaign. Held on May 31st of every year, World No Tobacco day brings global attention to the “health risks associated with tobacco use” and promotes advocacy efforts to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, the theme for 2013.
The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Center for Global Health is observing World No Tobacco day through a campus wide public relations initiative to increase awareness. K. Michael Cummings, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at MUSC and co-director of Tobacco Policy and Control at Hollings Cancer Center, remains optimistic about the progress that has been made as the future meets the past. “We have to bend the curve by learning lessons of the past,” said Cummings, who is one of the world’s leading authorities on tobacco control policy and has testified as an expert in many tobacco industry (“Big Tobacco”) lawsuits across the U.S., holding the industry’s lobbyists’ feet to the fire. “The product created by tobacco manufacturers is engineered to be addictive and if you were to ask an executive for Phillip Morris USA or at R.J. Reynolds if they smoke, they’d tell you no,” Cummings said. He is confident that World No Tobacco day efforts are effective, has broad international reach and truly “makes a difference.”
Michael Sweat, Ph.D. serves as the director of the MUSC Center for Global Health and professor at the Family Services Research Center in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and understands quite well the efficacy of strong global programming and interventions. “In the global health arena there is a growing recognition of lifestyle-related health issues as major causes of morbidity and mortality. This is especially true as poor countries all over the world become more engaged in the world economy and are more exposed to western media, diets, and trends in substance use. A prime example is tobacco use, which obviously has severe health outcomes. It is critical that we not only export our Big Macs and Marlboros – but also our successes in promoting a healthy diet and reductions in tobacco use.” The change begins at home, through tobacco-related education programs and getting the tobacco industry to acknowledge the damage being done to population health across the globe. “Community pressure can be highly effective at shaming companies into doing the right thing, but that only happens when people are aware of corporate practices across borders. A prime example of this is marketing tobacco to children – it is not acceptable here in US, nor should it be allowed in poor countries. I believe that those of us at MUSC working on tobacco control should publicize these issues regularly to keep the community informed and keep the pressure on tobacco companies to have consistent and reasonable marketing policies, no matter where they operate.”
For more information on World No Tobacco Day, please visit http://www.who.int/campaigns/no-tobacco-day/2013/en/index.html.
If you’d like to learn more about tobacco cessation programs in your local community, go to the South Carolina Tobacco Free Collaborative.