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close this bookFact sheet No 224: Tobacco - What Governments can do - Legislate and Educate - April 1999 (WHO, 1999, 2 p.)
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View the documentTobacco - What Governments Can Do - Legislate and Educate


April 1999

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WHO Press Spokesperson and Coordinator, Spokesperson’s Office,
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Tobacco - What Governments Can Do - Legislate and Educate

The spectacular rise and spread of tobacco consumption world-wide is a challenge and opportunity for the Member States of the World Health Organization. Through national policies, governments have a key role to play in controlling tobacco as effectively as possible.

WHO recommends comprehensive tobacco control strategies, with strong emphasis on legislation and education. Reducing tobacco’s harmful effects requires governments to legislate and educate. There is a need for urgent national and international action to restrict the spread of tobacco use.

Tobacco kills four million people a year, one death every eight seconds. If current trends remain unchecked, tobacco will also eventually kill 250 million children alive today. This death toll is avoidable Tobacco control must come from all sectors of society, from economic, health and social sectors.

Effective policies and interventions can make a real difference to tobacco use and associated health outcomes. The combined impact of legislation, increased tax and comprehensive community-based strategies has steadily decreased tobacco consumption in many developed countries. Early indications from developing countries that have adopted a similar mix of interventions suggest that they too will be effective.

Examples of successful legislation can be found: New Zealand adopted comprehensive tobacco control policies in 1990. By 1996 tobacco consumption per capita among young adults (15+) had dropped by 21%. Thailand introduced comprehensive tobacco control policies in 1992. Smoking prevalence among young Thai adults aged 15-19 dropped for 12.1% to 9.5%, a decline of over one-fifth. Thailand also registered substantial decreases in adult smoking prevalence from 1991 to 1996.

WHO recommends some key actions that governments could undertake to create comprehensive national tobacco control programmes:

· Legislate:

· Ban all tobacco advertising and promotion

· Ban sales to children

· Require effective health warnings on all tobacco products

· Require detailed reporting of constituents of tobacco and tobacco smoke

· Regulate tobacco products

· Protect people from involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke by establishing smoke-free public places and workplaces

· Bring tobacco smuggling under control through stricter law enforcement and improved international co-operation

· Increase the price of all tobacco products beyond inflation; use part of the revenue for tobacco control, and part to promote economic alternatives to tobacco growing and manufacturing

· Educate:

· Invest in health education and promotion

· Provide tobacco use cessation programmes

· Support media involvement in the need for tobacco control, the availability of policies that work and the role of the tobacco industry in thwarting implementation of effective tobacco control policies

· Counter tobacco industry misinformation campaigns by telling the truth about tobacco

· Ensure adequate institutional support for tobacco control capacity building, applied research, routine surveillance and programme evaluation