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Ambassador Dacio Castillo (Honduras)
World Health Organization (WHO)
218. The representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that tobacco use was one of the greatest threats to public health the world had ever faced, and the single most preventable cause of death in the world today. Globally, tobacco consumption killed nearly six million people a year through both direct use and the deadly effects of second-hand smoke, more than 70 per cent of whom reside in low- and middle-income countries. Tobacco also represented the leading modifiable risk factor in the fight against the growing epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). NCDs, primarily cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular and chronic lung diseases, currently accounted for 63 per cent of all deaths worldwide. These diseases killed an astounding 36 million people each year, with nearly 80 per cent of deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. 219. He said that, as necessary tobacco control measures continued to be implemented in developed countries, the tobacco industry, through aggressive marketing and interference practices, had shifted its focus to new markets in the developing world some time ago. As a result, tobacco attributable mortality was rapidly increasing in developing countries, and, by 2030, more than 80 per cent of the world's tobacco deaths would occur in low- and middle-income countries. He said that, given that smoking caused 30 per cent of all cancers, including greater than 70 per cent of all lung cancers, 40 per cent of chronic respiratory diseases, and nearly 10 per cent of all cardiovascular diseases, it was a critical moment in the global effort to curb the tobacco epidemic for the introduction of necessary public health interventions under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), like the measure under consideration in this Council. 220. He said that the economic costs of tobacco use were equally as devastating as the public health costs. Though the tobacco industry routinely cited the economic contribution of tobacco, the reality was that tobacco use put an enormous financial burden on countries, in addition to the fact that tobacco and poverty were inextricably linked at the individual level. Nationally, the costs of tobacco use encompassed increased health-care costs, lost productivity due to illness, premature death, and widespread environmental damage. Thus, as tobacco consumption rates and tobacco-related illnesses increased in developing countries, so did tobacco-related healthcare costs. Additionally, conservative estimates suggested that tobacco's more than US$500 billion drain on the world economy exceeded total annual health expenditures in low- and middle-income countries. 221. He said that the economic burden of NCDs, with tobacco representing the largest risk factor, was also staggering. Recent macroeconomic simulations suggested that, over the next two decades, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, cancer, and diabetes, would cause a cumulative output loss of more than US$30 trillion, representing 48% of global GDP in 2010. This in turn would push millions of people across the planet below the poverty line. Because NCDs would result in long-term macroeconomic impacts on labour supply, capital accumulation and GDP worldwide, with the consequences most severe in developing countries, strong public health interventions, like the plain packaging measure, were relevant in addressing both health and economic concerns. 222. He said that the WHO wished to draw the attention of delegations to the fact that the impact of tobacco and NCDs on both public health and country economies had been highlighted at the recent United Nations High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non Communicable Diseases, held in September 2011 in New York. There, the UN General Assembly, comprised of Heads of State, had adopted a Political Declaration which recognized the fundamental conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health, and wherein Member States unanimously committed to advancing the implementation of multi-sectoral, cost-effective, population-wide interventions in order to reduce the impact of NCD risk factors. 223. He said that the WHO was of the view that the implementation of plain tobacco product packaging, representing a legitimate tobacco control measure, would have a substantial impact on tobacco consumption, was fully in line with the spirit and intent of the outcome of the UN High-Level Meeting, and was in accordance with international legal obligations under the FCTC. 224. Another representative of the WHO said that the FCTC consisted of a series of obligations to undertake tobacco control measures and that the parties to the WHO FCTC largely overlapped with WTO membership. She said Members could refer to the comments WHO had made at the two previous Council meetings but she wished to draw the attention of the Council to an upcoming event that it the FCTC Secretariat was planning at the WHO headquarters. This event stemmed from a decision by the Conference of the Parties, the supreme governing body of the FCTC, to collaborate with and cooperate with the WTO Secretariat in terms of information sharing and exploration of trade-related tobacco control measures and issues arising therefrom. 225. The FCTC Secretariat was hosting on 15-16 March a workshop at the WHO headquarters in order to promote the sharing of knowledge and information amongst representatives of countries that are parties to the FCTC and also Members of the WTO. The primary goal was to invite health attachés and trade attachés of Permanent Missions in Geneva to this workshop so as to examine the issues of intersection between tobacco control measures and trade-related issues. She said that the FCTC Secretariat would very much welcome the participation by Members of the TRIPS Council and other WTO bodies.