International Issues

Non-Communicable Diseases and Tobacco

"The rise of chronic non-communicable diseases presents public health with an enormous challenge. For some countries, it is no exaggeration to describe the situation as an impending disaster. I mean a disaster for health, for society, and most of all for national economies ..... Implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control ... There is no other 'best buy' for the money on offer."
— Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) — especially cancer, heart disease, chronic lung disease and diabetes — have overtaken infectious diseases as the world’s leading killers and now cause nearly two out of every three deaths worldwide. Eighty percent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, straining health care systems, contributing to poverty and posing a major barrier to development.

Tobacco use is the only risk factor shared by all four main categories of NCDs. Tobacco accounts for nearly one in six deaths from NCDs and kills nearly six million people worldwide each year.

As a result, world leaders at the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases made an unprecedented commitment to address the global health crisis caused by NCDs, and recognized that the battle against NCDs cannot be won without winning the fight against tobacco.

The United Nations High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases adopted a declaration calling on nations to accelerate implementation of tobacco control policies such as those contained in the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world's only public health treaty. In particular, the declaration recognizes the effectiveness of raising taxes on tobacco products, stating that "price and tax measures are an effective and important means of reducing tobacco consumption."

An April 2011 report in The Lancet medical journal identified tobacco control as “the most urgent and immediate priority” for combating NCDs. Implementation of FCTC policies would prevent 5.5 million deaths over 10 years in 23 low- and middle-income countries with a high burden of NCDs — and cost less than 20 cents per person per year in countries such as China and India, according to The Lancet.

Also in April 2011, the WHO’s first Global Status Report on NCDs recommended ten “best buys” — cost-effective actions that governments should undertake immediately to prevent NCDs, save lives and reduce health care costs. Four of the ten are proven tobacco control policies contained in the FCTC:

  • Protect people from secondhand smoke and ban smoking in public places;
  • Warn about the dangers of tobacco use.
  • Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and
  • Raise taxes on tobacco.

To date, 176 countries have joined the treaty and committed to implementing these measures.