31 May, World No Tobacco Day

30 May 2014

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Opinion Piece by Andrew Russell, UN Development Coordinator and Skender Syla, Head of WHO in Kosovo

Albanian

Serbian

This year Kosovo celebrates World No Tobacco Day in the wake of the first anniversary of highly successful ban on smoking in all public places which came into effect 22nd May 2013.
As a result of the comprehensive and well implemented law on tobacco control, which also increased awareness of the dangers of smoking, curtailed the advertisement of tobacco products and banned the sale of tobacco to minors, non-smokers’ exposure to passive smoking has greatly reduced in public places.

The growing problem of non-communicable disease is one of the major concerns of the twenty first century, and tobacco is now one of the biggest public health challenges the world has ever faced; low and middle income countries are experiencing a steady rise in the number of smokers and smoking related illnesses. It is because of this worrying rise that the UNDP and WHO have jointly committed to assist governments to develop, implement, and monitor national policies to achieve their goals in reducing the incidences of non-communicable diseases.

Not only does second hand smoke have significant direct adverse health effects but it is beyond question that our habits influence others. Smoking during pregnancy has consistently been linked to negative impacts on the growth, cognitive development and behavior of the unborn child. Kosovo has a particularly high prevalence of smoking during pregnancy, with approximately 21% of expectant mothers admitting to continuing to smoke during pregnancy. The presence of a smoker in the family has, among other factors, been shown to have strong links with the mothers’ choice to continue smoking; almost half of pregnant smokers report constant exposure to smoke at home owing to family members.

According to survey data from 2004, 84.2% of Kosovar adolescents aged 13 to 15 years of age live in homes where others smoke in their presence. In 2014, this figure shows an encouraging downtrend with 33.3% of adolescents aged  11 to 15 years of age exposed to second hand smoking in their homes. This this figure is still very high taking into consideration that Kosovo has the youngest population in the European region.

These facts highlight the danger of passive smoking and smoke exposure, not just in relation to direct health effect but in behavior.

The theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day is to encourage governments to raise the taxes on tobacco products. On World No Tobacco Day (31 May), WHO calls on countries to raise taxes on tobacco to encourage users to stop and prevent other people from becoming addicted to tobacco. Based on 2012 data, WHO estimates that increasing tobacco taxes by 50%, all countries would reduce the number of smokers by 49 million within the next three years and ultimately save 11 million lives.

Today, every 6 seconds someone dies from tobacco use. Tobacco kills up to half of its users. It also incurs considerable costs for families, businesses, and governments.  Treating tobacco-related diseases like cancer and heart disease is expensive. And as tobacco-related disease and death often strikes people in the prime of their working lives, productivity and incomes fall. 

“Raising taxes on tobacco is the most effective way to reduce use and save lives,” says WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. “Determined action on tobacco tax policy hits the industry where it hurts.”

While government support is critical, we must look to ourselves first when it comes to our own safety and that of the people around us. We each have the power to save ourselves and the people we care about from the unnecessary danger which claims the lives of 1 in 10 adults every year worldwide. We can build on the success of the legislation which has made Kosovo’s public spaces smoke free and take care to protect those around us from second hand smoke in our private spaces as well.