According to the WHO, however, governments must intensify action to combat the tobacco industry and dramatically reduce consumption of tobacco products to, in turn, protect public health.
Non-smoking is becoming the new norm worldwide, according to a new online WHO Global Report on Trends in Tobacco Smoking, launched on Wednesday during the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH) in Abu Dhabi.
The four-day conference which ends on Friday is focussing on tobacco control and noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), namely lung and heart diseases, cancers and diabetes.
The report which was made available to the Ghana News Agency by the WHO finds that in 2010, there were 3.9 billion non-smokers aged 15 years and over in WHO Member States (or 78 per cent of the 5.1 billion population aged 15+).
It said this number is projected to rise to 5 billion (or 81 per cent of the projected 6.1 billion population aged 15+) by 2025 if the current pace of tobacco cessation continues.
It said this trend indicated countries were making inroads, but much greater action was needed to curb the tobacco epidemic if the global target to cut tobacco consumption by 30 per cent by 2025 to reduce premature deaths from NCDs is to be met. But as WHO highlights, obstacles remain.
“In an ominous trend, in some countries the battle between tobacco and health has moved into the courts,” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, who is attending the conference.
Dr Chan adds: “Governments wishing to protect their citizens through larger pictorial warnings on cigarette packs or by introducing plain packaging are being intimidated by industry’s threats of lengthy and costly litigation. This is an effort to deprive governments of their sovereign right to legislate in the public interest. We will push back hard.”
According to the WHO a new study on global trends and projections for tobacco use published in The Lancet ahead of the WCTOH found that the prevalence of men smoking tobacco products had fallen in 125 countries between 2000 and 2010, and in 156 countries for women.
It said however, based on current trends, only 37 countries are on track to achieve the 30 per cent tobacco reduction target set out in the Global Action Plan for the prevention and control of NCDs 2013-2020.
“The global movement against the tobacco epidemic is strong, and the downward trends in tobacco use are a testament to that fact,” said Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, Head of the WHO FCTC Secretariat.
“We see many countries are taking steps to beat back the influence of the tobacco industry. But if we are to achieve targets set by governments to reduce tobacco consumption by 30 per cent by 2025, intensified action will be needed to implement all the provisions of the WHO FCTC. This is a warning call to countries to step up the fight against the tobacco industry.”
WHO is co-sponsoring the conference in close collaboration with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) Secretariat.
“Most of these premature deaths could have been prevented through action on tackling the four main risk factors – unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and tobacco use,” said Dr Ala Alwan, Regional Director of WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean office. “By curbing access to and controlling, with a view to ending, the addictive use of tobacco, countries will witness a dramatic reduction in premature deaths from NCDs.”
WHO is working with countries worldwide to help them implement MPOWER measures to monitor tobacco use and prevention policies; protect people from tobacco smoke; offer help to quit tobacco use; warn about the dangers of tobacco; enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and raise taxes on tobacco.