World leaders must 'take tobacco much more seriously' to achieve development goals
In order to cut premature death rates, the world’s politicians need to focus on “simple measures” like anti-tobacco policies, cutting salt levels in food, and improving access to affordable heart disease drugs, according to experts writing in The Lancet today.
The report focuses on preventing ‘non-communicable’ diseases, or NCDs – i.e. cancers, heart disease, strokes, chronic lung diseases, and diabetes.
Rates of these diseases – which are often linked to lifestyle – are set to soar across the developing world in coming decades.
According to recent estimates, 34.5 million people died from NCDs in 2010, representing two-thirds of the 52.8 million deaths worldwide that year.
In May 2012, the World Health Organisation (WHO) committed to reducing preventable NCD deaths by 25 per cent by 2025.
But in order to make this reality urgent action is needed, the panel of international experts said.
The key is to regard health not as a “goal” of development, but “an instrument to bring it about,” according to Sir George Alleyne, Emeritus Director of the Pan American Health Organization and contributor to the report.
“Any realistic attempt to make human development sustainable must take NCDs into account.”
That means regulating the marketing of tobacco, alcohol, and ‘ultra-processed’ food and drinks, said Professor Rob Moodie from the University of Melbourne.
“These companies say they’re part of the solution, but the evidence says otherwise. They should have no role in formulating health policy. Put it this way – you wouldn’t let a burglar change your locks,” he added.
According to the report, there is growing evidence that multinational food, drink and alcohol manufacturers are adopting similar strategies to tobacco industry to undermine public health policies. They should thus be similarly regulated, argue the authors.
Tobacco is the most important preventable cause of cancer, but the disease is also linked to obesity, high alcohol consumption and poor diet.
Policymakers also need to focus on equal access to healthcare, including vaccines and drugs – particularly cheaper generic drugs which could “prevent or treat most NCDs”.
Hazel Nunn, Cancer Research UK’s head of evidence and information, welcomed the report.
“Cancer is often seen as a disease of the richer world, but just over half of the 12.7 million people diagnosed every year live in less developed countries, and this proportion is rising fast,” she said.
"This new report is an important and timely reminder to keep non-communicable diseases high on the global political agenda. Just like the other major NCDs, cancer is a social and economic issue as well as a health issue, and requires strong and joined-up action."
"The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control has given policymakers much-needed guidance in setting national anti-tobacco agendas. This new report suggests that the time may be right to mirror this approach in other areas, particularly alcohol and 'ultra-processed' food and drinks," she added.
- Non-Communicable Diseases Series 2013. The Lancet (2013)