Tobacco use is the world's leading cause of preventable death. One person dies from a tobacco-related illness every six seconds, which is equivalent to around 6 million people a year. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that deaths related to tobacco use will increase to more than eight million per year by 2030.
Underscoring the health hazards related to tobacco use and advocating for efficient policies to reduce tobacco consumption, the WHO and partner organizations mark 'World No Tobacco Day' (WNTD) on May 31 every year.
AdvertisementThis year, on WNTD 2015, the WHO asks for actions to end illicit trade of tobacco products. Officials say that illicit trade of tobacco products is a major global concern, and it affects health, economy and governance.
The illicit tobacco trade encourages tobacco use among youngsters and people who generally have lower incomes by providing tobacco products at lower prices. The tobacco mafia avoids government taxes through unlawful manufacturing and smuggling. This affects a nation's economy as the revenue from taxes might otherwise be spent on public services, including health care.
As part of continuing efforts to curb the illegal trade, the WHO urges its 194 member states to sign the "Protocol to Eliminate the Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products."
"The Protocol offers the world a unique legal instrument to counter and eventually eliminate a sophisticated criminal activity. Fully implemented, it will replenish government revenues and allow more spending on health," says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General.
The Protocol aims to eliminate all forms of illicit trade in tobacco products.
So far, 8 countries have ratified the Protocol. The Protocol needs approval of 32 more countries to become an international law.
Dr. Vera da Costa E. Silva, Head of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, said that the protocol requires a wide range of measures controlling the tobacco supply chain.
"Measures include the licensing of imports, exports and manufacture of tobacco products; the establishment of tracking and tracing systems and the imposition of penal sanctions on those responsible for illicit trade. It would also criminalize illicit production and cross border smuggling. The protocol faces overt and covert resistance from the tobacco industry. Manufacturers know that once implemented, it will become much harder to hook young people and the poor into tobacco addiction," explained Silva.
She also said that while publicly stating its support for action against the illicit trade, the tobacco industry's behind-the-scenes behavior has been very different. "Internal industry documents released, as a result of court cases, demonstrate that the tobacco industry has actively fostered the illicit trade globally. It also works to block implementation of tobacco control measures, like tax increases and pictorial health warnings, by arguing they will fuel the illicit trade," she added.
Why Illicit Trade of Tobacco Products is Detrimental to Your Health
- Illicit tobacco products are more affordable. Hence, youngsters get these products easily. Such products also mislead people by not displaying health warnings. Tobacco mafia even uses children in illegal selling activities.
- Illicit trade takes tax revenue away from the government. The money could have otherwise been used on the public services. Now, profit of the illicit trade has become a major source for criminal activities.
- Illicit tobacco trade powers corruption and weakens good governance.
Action Plan for Policy Makers
- The illicit tobacco trade must be recognized by policy makers. The illicit trade exacerbates the global tobacco epidemic and related health issues. Such trades also have security implications. The illicit mafia finances for organized crime like human and arms trafficking, as well as terrorism.
- Ratification of the WHO's Protocol is necessary to respond to the financial, legal and health impacts of the illegal trade of tobacco.
Action Plan for the Public
- People should recognize the adverse health, economic and social impacts of the illicit trade of tobacco products. They must be aware of the link between illicit trade of tobacco and crimes such as human trafficking and organized drug crimes.
- Members of the public can join the authorities to raise awareness on tobacco-related health problems and illicit tobacco trade. People can also raise awareness through social media.
Action Plan for Academia
- Academic institutions can conduct studies on the illicit trade of tobacco products. This will help to further document its harmful impacts, as well as the benefits to health.
- An important area of research is the key role the tobacco industry in supporting the illicit tobacco trade.