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TIME FOR MORE CONCERTED ACTION TO END THE RAVAGES OF TOBACCO
The world needs to grow more food. How many of us realize that more than 200,000 hectares of land today are utilised globally to cultivate tobacco leaves to produce more than six trillion cigarettes every year? This is land that could be used to increase food security. Articles 17 and 18 of the FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) call on governments around the world to ensure they work collectively to ensure farmers who depend on tobacco cultivation are supported to switch to producing other crops without losing their livelihoods. This is not an obligation only of countries where tobacco is still being cultivated, it is, like climate change, a collective responsibility. The UN must play a bigger role in countries being able to switch from tobacco cultivation to support food security.
Guyana’s Presidential Commission on the Prevention and Control of the NCDs take the opportunity today, on No Tobacco Day, to remind the UN and the world that we have this obligation and that we have made little to no progress in meeting this agreed to obligation fifteen years after we agreed.
Today is World No Tobacco Day. The President Commission on the Prevention and Control of the NCDs join the Ministry of Health and our sisters and brothers to observe this day and to reaffirm the Commission’s firm stance that Guyana needs to fully implement Guyana’s Tobacco Control Act 2017. Six years after the Act was enacted, Guyana is yet to fully implement the provisions of the Act. We urge the Ministry of Health and other implementing agencies to ensure the full implementation of the Act.
We join sister commissions in CARICOM and around the world in highlighting the fact that fifteen years after the FCTC came into effect, with now 182 countries as signatories, the evidence-based treaty is still not fully being implemented equally around the world.
While we continue to observe the No Tobacco Day, we are hopeful that in our lifetime we can switch from observing the day to celebrating the END of TOBACCO. There can be absolutely no doubt that tobacco is a killer and a public health threat. More than 8 million persons die prematurely each year because of tobacco use, including more than 1.2 million who die from second-hand smoke exposure. This does not include the millions who die after 70 years old who could have lived even longer had it not been for tobacco poisoning. This does not include the millions that live disabled lives because of tobacco. Tobacco is a killer, one of the biggest killers, but it is not extrajudicial, because it kills when used exactly as the law permits.
While we have made some progress with adults, more young people are engaged in smoking. Presently, 24% of the global population are smokers, 37% male and 8% female. We must work harder to reduce this number. But we have a challenge, as in many countries, smoking overall is increasing, with more young people adopting a lifestyle that guarantee disability and sickness and premature death.
In addition, Vaping and a proliferation of Hookah Bars present another form of threats to health and well-being. The global response for more regulations to ensure the tobacco companies do not find another way into the lives of people for profit is urgently required.
We are spending millions in the fight against suicide, yet we insist on permitting tobacco to kill people. It is senseless. We even are reluctant to raise taxes on this killer. In our own country, between 2015 and 2020, we introduced new taxes and raised old ones, but we did not increase taxation on tobacco products.
The Commission again advocated for an increase in tobacco taxation in Guyana.
Tobacco does not affect our health and kills us because of direct use, it affects our health and well-being because it is also an environmental hazard. Six trillion cigarettes are produced every year. The tobacco crops that produce enough leaves for this purpose can support the cultivation of 600 million trees that could serve as a carbon sink. Indeed, tobacco use contributes more than 84 million tons of CO2 annually. The tobacco industry depletes the world of more than 30 billion tons of water. Tobacco use leads to more than 800 million kilograms of cigarette butts in trash annually.
This health, environmental and climate change threat must be stopped now. The Guyana Presidential Commission on the Prevention and Control of NCDs urges greater action at the national, regional and global level to fully implement the national laws and the FCTC.