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The Director's Corner

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World No Tobacco Day 2019: A focus on prevention

Message from the Executive Director, José Luis Castro

On this World No Tobacco Day, 31 May, the global health community is highlighting the far-reaching impact of tobacco use as one of the main drivers of lung disease.

Tobacco causes more than eight million deaths each year – 3.3 million of those deaths from respiratory diseases including tuberculosis (TB), lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and many others.

Smoking is a major risk factor for TB, significantly increasing a person’s risk of falling ill with TB and greatly impairing the body’s response to treatment. In addition, Union research has shown that smoking doubles the risk of recurrent TB in adults who have successfully completed a full course of treatment. Children and adults who are exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to develop TB.

Now consider that approximately one-fourth of the world’s population is infected with TB infection, the bacteria that can lay dormant in the body for months or even years before developing into TB disease. TB infection is not contagious and can be treated – but without treatment, approximately five to 10 percent of people with TB infection will develop TB disease at some point in their lives.

That is approximately 1.87 billion people in the world who are living with a heightened risk of developing TB – a completely preventable and treatable disease.

Coupled with tobacco use – a preventable risk factor – this amounts to enormous avoidable suffering that we as a global health community have a responsibility to prevent.

Prevention must lead our responses to both tobacco control and TB. We must focus our efforts on reducing tobacco use and providing TB screening and prevention as part of a comprehensive package of health services available to everyone if we hope to reach the Sustainable Development Goal target to ensure good health and well-being for all.

The Union is working to strengthen the implementation of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which sets out policy measures that are proven to reduce tobacco use. Our work has helped more than 50 countries to implement tobacco control policies, such as warning labels on packaging, banning tobacco advertising, creating smoke-free areas and increased taxes on tobacco products, which have impacted billions of people globally.

In TB, The Union has implemented highly successful prevention programmes that systematically screen anyone in close contact with a person receiving TB treatment and ensure they are provided either preventive therapy or TB treatment as needed. This ensures that people at-risk or children who are hard to diagnose with TB due to inadequate diagnostics are brought in for care before it is too late.

But alone, these programmes are not enough. We need broader public health policy with an emphasis on prevention if we hope to progress against these threats to global health. It is our responsibility to ensure that people everywhere are empowered with the knowledge and the tools to assure their own health and avoid these diseases completely.

This World No Tobacco Day, let’s join together in stopping tobacco use before it begins, and preventing TB before it progresses. We must hold ourselves and our governments accountable for the prevention of TB and tobacco-related diseases – or accept responsibility for the needless suffering and death of millions of people worldwide.