Speech by Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Launch of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Smoking Cessation and Treatment of Tobacco Dependence

Hong Kong (China)
9 April 2012


I am delighted to be here again in Hong Kong. Every time I am here, I cannot help but think about the excellent work on tobacco control and how so many other cities can be inspired by your example.

The last time I was here for a launching was to kick off the regional celebration for World No Tobacco Day in 2011. In that year, Hong Kong received the Director-General’s award for World No Tobacco Day.

It was a fitting tribute then to a city that has led the tobacco control movement in the Region, even before the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Today, we gather to celebrate another shining accomplishment of the Hong Kong Department of Health with the inauguration of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Smoking Cessation and Treatment of Tobacco Dependence.

Getting people to quit smoking is critical to reducing preventable deaths.

The World Bank reports that if adult tobacco consumption were cut in half by 2020, approximately 180 million tobacco-related deaths would be prevented.

Public health approaches can make a difference. Higher prices and taxes, bans on indoor smoking and comprehensive bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship all encourage people to quit.

In addition, WHO strongly urges governments to strengthen health systems services and information on the dangers of tobacco.

All health care providers should actively encourage smokers to quit.

Some might think that public health approaches should be tried first, then health systems approaches can follow. But considering the number of smokers in the world — about one billion total, with up to 10% who say they cannot quit without help —there are roughly 100 million people who need treatment and cannot get it.

For heavily dependent smokers, quitting could literally save their lives from heart disease, strokes, cancer, emphysema and other respiratory ailments. So, for ethical reasons we should press for health systems approaches.

A stronger health systems approaches also has political benefits. Stronger cessation programmes tell smokers that their government cares about them and watches out for them. Strong political will also encourages people to try to quit and makes public health approaches more acceptable.

But much remains to be done to help millions in the Region to give up smoking.

First, we urgently need successful programmes that can serve as pilots for the Region.

Hong Kong is a global leader in smoking cessation and treatment of tobacco dependence. With the establishment of this collaborating centre, we can create a regional training hub for smoking cessation.

For reasons and history and geography, Hong Kong has a strategic advantage in tackling the cultural and social dimensions of smoking in the rest of China, which is home to 350 million smokers.

According to surveys, nine out of 10 smokers in China say they tried to quit in the past year, but did not have any assistance. Hong Kong can provide that much-needed assistance.

We look forward to the day when services and information on cessation will be integrated into health systems in all countries and available in every health centre or hospital.

For every smoker who wants to quit in the Region there should be a system to support their efforts.

This collaborating centre will help in the sharing of good practices, research, training and programme management for smoking cessation.

Today, we recognize the work of Dr Ping Yan Lam and his team at the Department of Health of Hong Kong for their excellence in smoking cessation and treatment of tobacco dependence.

Dr Lam is a true civil servant, a remarkable public health colleague and a trusted friend of WHO

Future generations will certainly benefit from his outstanding leadership and legacy of knowledge and expertise that has been developed at the Department of Health over many years.

Again, I am pleased and proud to be here to inaugurate the WHO Collaborating Centre for Smoking Cessation and Treatment of Tobacco Dependence.

We look forward to many years of strong partnership to save lives from the tobacco epidemic.

Thank you.