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World no tobacco day 2020: Message of WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti

Every year on 31 May, we commemorate World No Tobacco Day to highlight the dangers of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke, and to advocate for effective policies to save lives.

This year’s theme is “protecting youth from industry manipulation” and we are launching a global counter-marketing campaign against the tobacco industry’s aggressive tactics to attract a new generation of customers. We will need everyone to get on board, to challenge the US$ 8 billion investment by industry each year in marketing these lethal products.

We know that tobacco kills half its users and smokers have a higher risk of severe disease and death if infected with COVID-19.

All forms of tobacco use are harmful and there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke. E-cigarette use increases the risk of heart disease and lung disorders, and the nicotine in these products can impair brain development in children. Smoking shisha is as harmful as other forms of tobacco use and chewing tobacco can cause mouth cancer, tooth loss and gum disease.

In the African Region, 94 million men and 13 million women, and one in five adolescents, use tobacco products. Tobacco use is increasing among 13–15-year-old girls and use of tobacco products other than cigarettes is increasing in the Region. Every year, 146 000 Africans die from tobacco-related diseases. Illness related to tobacco use accounts for 3.5% of annual total health expenditure in the Region.

To combat tobacco-related illness and deaths, 26 African countries[1] have banned smoking in public places, among them 10 have implemented comprehensive bans. Thirty-four countries[2] have banned tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. However, in trying to protect their citizens, many governments are confronted with industry threats and legal action to weaken these measures.

To support Member States to counter tobacco industry interference, we will continue working with partners to debunk myths, expose manipulation tactics and strengthen healthy policies.

Today, as we observe the World No Tobacco Day, I call on all young people to join the fight against the tobacco epidemic. I encourage youth groups to build a movement for a tobacco-free generation. I urge celebrities and influencers to reject all forms of tobacco industry sponsorship.

I call upon parents, caregivers and teachers to educate children on the harms of tobacco products use and advocate for 100% smoke-free public places and banning all forms of tobacco advertising.

Finally, I urge all governments to implement comprehensive tobacco control policies, as outlined in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to save lives and reduce health-care costs.

With international solidarity, young people can lead the way by becoming the first tobacco free generation.

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