01.01.2013 Tobacco control is a human right

Tobacco control. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan calls for human rights concerns to play a greater role in the fight against the tobacco industry.

Pictures Tobacco control is a human right


At the 15th World Congress on Tobacco or Health held in Singapore in March 2012, Margaret Chan strongly urged participants to base their arguments against the activities of the tobacco industry on concerns about human and children's rights and to enforce bans. The cultivation and use of tobacco often infringe human rights. The large number of children employed on tobacco plantations (which infringes the ban on hazardous child labour) and the lack of protection for non-smokers (which infringes their right to health) are two cases in point.

Enforcing agreements
Margaret Chan had already drawn attention at the WHO Global Forum in 2011 to the spread of chronic, non-communicable diseases of which smoking is a contributing factor, for instance cancer and cardiovascular conditions. These diseases, according to Chan, are an enormous challenge for all countries. The fight against non-communicable diseases is not comparable with efforts to combat infections such as HIV/AIDS. The former, she said, is above all a fight against powerful business interests that are pursuing exclusively commercial goals without any regard for health. In Chan's view, cooperation with the tobacco industry is not the way to go. The only tool to use against the tobacco industry is statutory pressure. Margaret Chan's call to action constitutes support for the efforts of organisations such as the international Human Rights and Tobacco Control Network (HRTCN), which supports the implementation of restrictions on smoking on the basis of human rights concerns. The cornerstones of this global network's approach are international agreements such as the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the International Pact on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Social Pact).

Six million deaths a year – and the trend is upward
According to the "Tobacco Atlas", just under six million people died as a result of tobacco use in 2011. One out of every two smokers dies as a result of tobacco use, half of them in middle age. The WHO expects the number of smokers, and thus the problems associated with smoking, to further increase in the next 20 years. The tobacco industry's marketing strategy particularly targets women living in developing and emerging countries.

The industry is responsible not only for illness and death but also for economic, social and ecological problems: many families lose their main breadwinner to premature death as a result of tobacco use; large numbers of tobacco plantations employ children and thus rob them not only of their health but also of their education and future prospects; and pesticide use and forest clearing by tobacco plantations cause serious damage to the environment and health.



Laure Curt, Tobacco Section, laure.curt@bag.admin.ch

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