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The Union honours Uruguay’s President Tabare Vazquez for his lasting contribution to the global fight against tobacco

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With sadness, The Union marks the death of Uruguay’s President Dr Tabare Vazquez.

Where tobacco control is concerned, President Vázquez was not only a symbol of vision and courage around the world, but a pioneer. Under his leadership, Uruguay pushed for implementation of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and in 2006 became the first country in the Americas to go smoke-free. In 2008, they also became the first country worldwide to set 80% health warning labels.

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, Uruguay had a smoking rate of nearly 22 percent in 2017. This reflected a dramatic drop since 2006, when almost 40 percent of adults smoked. That same year President Vázquez, in his first tenure, launched a pioneering set of tobacco control measures, including 100 percent smoke-free public places; large health warnings; and a ban on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. In 2017, the current Vázquez administration extended the indoor ban on smoking to e-cigarettes and similar products.

In 2018, in a landmark victory for tobacco control and public health, the government of Uruguay introduced plain or standardised packaging of tobacco products thanks to an executive decree issued by President Tabaré Vázquez. 

In July 2016, Uruguay won a six-year legal battle launched by PMI before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). PMI argued that graphic health warnings covering 80 percent of the surface area of tobacco packaging, and limiting each brand to just one variant (for example, only one presentation of Marlboro cigarettes, and not Marlboro Red, Light, or Blue), contravened trademark and investment protections. The ICSID ruling rejected all their claims. The ruling had international repercussions for tobacco control, and set an important precedent, favouring public health over commercial interests.

President Vázquez received the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award on World No Tobacco Day, as well as being named the Public Health Hero of the Americas by the Pan American Health Organization/WHO, in acknowledgement of his achievements scaling-up tobacco control efforts in accordance with the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

The Union has worked with Uruguay since 2014 with funding from the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use. This, offering technical assistance to further tobacco control policies, improve enforcement and evaluate policy impact.

Dr. Tabaré Vázquez will be greatly missed and remembered by The Union and the Tobacco Control community.