WHO hits back at the tobacco industry

News release

MANILA, 30 May 2012—The World Health Organization (WHO) marks World No Tobacco Day (31 May) with a call to resist the tobacco industry's increasingly aggressive attempts to undermine laws that protect people from the harms of tobacco.

"It is fitting that tobacco industry interference is the theme of this year's World No Tobacco Day," says WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo. "That's because the tobacco industry is throwing more of its huge power and resources at the laws that protect people from exposure to tobacco marketing and smoke. Its goal is simple: to increase its profits at the cost of human misery. We must resist. Denounce industry interference wherever you see it. Stand up for the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Tell Big Tobacco to keep its hands off public health."

Tobacco use is a leading cause of preventable death, killing nearly six million people per year, of whom more than 600 000 are nonsmokers exposed to second-hand smoke. One-third of the world's approximately one billion smokers are in the Western Pacific Region. The Region has the highest prevalence of male smoking and the fastest increase in new female and young tobacco users. Half of the women and children in the Region are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke.

Of the six WHO regions, the Western Pacific is the only region in which all eligible Member States have ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The treaty, which entered into force in 2005, obligates its parties to ban tobacco marketing, to protect people from tobacco smoke, to warn people about the harms of tobacco use, to offer help to people who want to quit and to raise taxes on tobacco products, among other provisions. It is the most important tool in the fight against the tobacco epidemic.

Parties' efforts to meet their obligations under the treaty have caused a fierce counter-reaction by the tobacco industry. Tobacco giant Philip Morris International recently went so far as to sue Australia under the country's bilateral investment treaty with Hong Kong (China) on the grounds that Australia's plain packaging law infringes on international trademarks. The Australian law requires that all tobacco products be sold in drab packages without logos. Australia has expressed its determination to vigorously defend the suit, as well as a separate suit that the tobacco industry lodged in a domestic court. For its part, WHO has pledged to stand shoulder to shoulder with Australia against the tobacco industry's attempts to strangle the plain packaging movement.

"The tobacco industry is getting more aggressive and brazen," Dr Shin says. "On World No Tobacco Day, and throughout the year, the World Health Organization will educate policy-makers and the general public about the tobacco industry's nefarious and harmful interference with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control."

Under the treaty, parties are obligated to monitor and resist the tobacco industry's attempts to subvert tobacco control efforts. It states: "in settling and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law". Guidelines to implementation of the treaty state that parties are recommended to "raise awareness about…tobacco industry interference with parties' tobacco control policies".

Besides trying to undermine public health laws, the tobacco industry is also engaging in so-called corporate social responsibility activities designed to enhance its public image and make people forget that its products cause addiction, suffering and death.

Unless urgent action is taken to control the tobacco epidemic, the annual death toll could rise to eight million by 2030. Tobacco use caused 100 million deaths in the 20th century. If current trends continue, it will cause up to one billion deaths in the 21st century.

WHO will give World No Tobacco Day 2012 awards to the following people and institution from the Western Pacific Region:

  • China's Minister of Health Chen Zhu will receive a Director-General's Special Recognition of Global Tobacco Control certificate for the establishment of a tobacco-free health system in China.
  • The Korean Association of Smoking and Health will receive a certificate of appreciation for conducting a nationwide anti-smoking campaign.


For more information contact

Dr Susan Mercado
Team Leader, Tobacco Free Initiative
Mobile: +63 (0)928 501 0241
E-mail: mercados@wpro.who.int

Mr Timothy O'Leary
Public Information Officer
Tel. +63 2 528 9991 to 93
E-mail: olearyt@wpro.wpro.who.int