GENEVA – Latin America has made greater strides in battling tobacco use than any other region over the past two years, with a series of countries taking bold steps to combat the industry’s efforts to dodge anti-tobacco measures and pitch their products to young people, the World Health Organization said Friday.
The program manager of the WHO’s tobacco control unit, Vinayak Prasad, said in presenting the “WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2019” that the greatest progress was observed in the Americas region.
The fight against tobacco is on the right path, according to the WHO, in large part because of the strong political commitment it has perceived in most Latin American countries, along with the resources being allocated to help smokers quit their habit.
Progress also has been made in terms of placing graphic health warnings on tobacco products, protecting people against secondary smoke in public indoor areas and raising taxes on tobacco, Roberto Iglesias, a technical officer at the WHO’s Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases Department, told EFE.
At the same time, Latin American governments “are learning more about the industry’s tactics,” he added.
“The industry is trying to reinvent itself and create legitimacy through its new products, using them to push the countries toward lower regulations,” Iglesias said.
The WHO used Friday’s presentation to recognize the efforts of Brazil, the second nation worldwide – after Turkey – to fully implement all of that United Nations agency’s recommended anti-tobacco measures at the highest level.
Its smoking cessation programs in particular are highly regarded, with the share of adult smokers in that country having fallen from 15.6 percent in 2007 to 10.1 percent in 2017, the last year for which figures are available.
The WHO recommends that countries worldwide adopt a series of tobacco control strategies, including banning smoking in indoor public spaces, requiring graphic health warnings on tobacco products, providing smoking cessation assistance and raising taxes on tobacco.
Iglesias said the industry has employed different strategies in a bid to halt the progress of anti-tobacco measures in Latin America, including arguing that higher tobacco taxes will encourage more people to buy cigarettes illegally, even though the findings of numerous studies say otherwise.
He added that the tobacco industry also continues to try to exploit legal loopholes to advertise and, above all, sponsor cultural and academic events.
The industry, moreover, now is focusing its efforts on electronic cigarettes and the heat-not-burn tobacco device IQOS and looking to penetrate the Brazilian, Peruvian and Colombian markets with those products, even though they are banned in Brazil and restricted in Peru.
“I’m seeing an industry strategy to make consumption (of those products) widespread – first informally and even illegally, and later pressuring governments to legalize them,” Iglesias said.
E-cigarette manufacturers present these products as a tobacco-cessation method, but the WHO says they instead create “dual smokers” (users of both conventional and e-cigarettes).