Protect People from Tobacco Smoke
I pointed out the muddle-headed approach of the World Health Organization in 2021, but they’re still at it. They recently issued a 248-page document, WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, 2023: Protect people from tobacco smoke. It’s full of boastful repetitive wordy statements such as the following:
No treaty, no set of public health solutions, has saved more lives, more quickly than the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the MPOWER package…the MPOWER package provides a legally enforceable proven road map of concrete, evidence-based measures whose benefits have been and continue to be demonstrated in the real world across different political systems and cultures and on every continent…MPOWER has saved lives in every country where one or more components of MPOWER have been adopted.
Why not be a little more modest and concise? They could simply say:
The legally enforceable measures in the MPOWER package of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control we believe have saved many lives.
The ambition to protect people from tobacco smoke, however, is only one of half-a-dozen measures they want to promote. These are spelled out in a punning acronym, ‘mpower’, which they proudly characterise as ‘fresh and alive’:
m – monitor tobacco use and prevention policies
p – protect people from tobacco smoke (they’ve already said that)
o – offer help to quit tobacco use
w – warn about the dangers of tobacco
e – enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship
r – raise taxes on tobacco
I fail to see what’s so fresh and alive or empowering about these measures. They can monitor till the cows come home and then what are they going to do? Similarly, offering help to quit tobacco use assumes people want to quit and will seek help to do it, but why, then, are there are about 1.3 billion smokers in the world today? (Source: passim). People don’t smoke for lack of help in quitting, nor do they smoke because of ignorance of the dangers of tobacco – no one can claim that these days. And no matter how strong the warnings about the dangers of tobacco may be, a huge number of people continues to smoke.
Not being content with just one foreword, there are four of them. The first is by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, in which he makes a bold claim:
Since MPOWER was introduced globally 15 years ago, an estimated 300 million less [sic] people are smoking than might have been if smoking prevalence had stayed the same.
The focus of the report is on the ‘p’ in ‘mpower’: to protect people from being exposed to second-hand smoke. That’s all very well, but what about first-hand smoke? This is what they say:
Smoke-free measures in public indoor areas are highly cost-effective interventions that not only protect non-smokers from the many dangers of second-hand tobacco smoke but also ‘denormalise’ the act of smoking and can increase smokers’ motivation to try to quit.
(Smoke-free public indoor areas are cost-effective. They protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke, help to ‘denormalise’ smoking, and can encourage smokers to quit.)
So public smoke-free measures, they claim, can increase smokers’ motivation, not to quit smoking, but to try to quit smoking! There’s no such thing as trying to quit smoking: there’s only failure to quit and this is demonstrated every time a smoker lights another cigarette.
Tobacco smoke is indeed something from which people need to be protected, but how does it come to be present in the environment in the first place? Obviously, tobacco smoke only arises because people smoke, and this poisonous emanation, we are informed, ‘kills 1.3 million non-smokers a year.’ This is terrible, but it’s dwarfed by the number of more than 6.7 million people who are killed directly every year by smoking (from WHO figures).
Dr Ghebreyesus continues:
We must act now to save lives and stop the spread of this preventable killer.
Why does he aim only to stop the spread of ‘this preventable killer’ (smoking)? Presumably he’s trying to say, ‘We must act now to prevent this killer spreading’, and it’s obvious that if this killer is stopped or prevented from spreading then lives will be saved. But many more lives would be saved if this killer were stopped in its tracks by being banned – yet not a word about this appears in the document.
What we do find are slogans such as, ‘Effective smoke-free laws are comprehensive and enforced.’ Are they trying to say that for smoke-free laws to be effective they must be comprehensive and enforced, or that effective smoke-free laws are those which are comprehensive and enforced? In either case they’re stating the obvious.
Another slogan is: ‘MPOWER’s persistence for 15 years speaks to its utility.’ But if the aim of MPOWER and its parent organization, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, is to put themselves out of business, it would be more accurate to say MPOWER’s persistence for 15 years speaks to its inutility.
And another: ‘Two billion people are still unprotected by any regulatory restrictions on electronic nicotine delivery systems (e-cigarettes).’ If regulations for e-cigarettes are meant only to restrict rather than abolish them, it implies some use of e-cigarettes is acceptable. Presumably they mean that e-cigarettes may have a place in helping smokers to switch their nicotine addiction from smoking to vaping. As I have also pointed out before, such a policy is a counsel of despair and almost an insult to smokers.
Tobacco needs to be cut off at source. While it’s true that the WHO promotes growing food instead of tobacco, much more can and should be done. It’s scandalous that useless, dangerous, addictive products like cigarettes and e-cigarettes are freely available for the public to buy.
I say again: the policy of tobacco control needs to change to tobacco abolition.
Text © Gabriel Symonds
Picture: People causing a nuisance by smoking in the street. Coloured etching by Henry Heath, 1827. Credit: Creative Commons, Wellcome Collection.