Tobacco and public health: a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

30 Oct 2014 by Dudley Tarlton, programme specialist for HIV, health and development, UNDP in Geneva.

A young man smokes in Timor-Leste.Health systems in lower and middle-income countries are the ones that can least afford the costs associated with the rise in tobacco consumption. Photo: UNDP in Lebanon.
Tobacco poses challenges to various dimensions of human development, from public health to poverty reduction, gender equality and environmental sustainability. As the market for tobacco products declines in the developed world, multinational corporations have turned their sights to lower- and middle-income countries. But the health systems in these countries are the ones that can least afford the costs associated with the increased burden that results from the rise in tobacco consumption. To make matters worse, the tobacco industry’s practices in these countries are often in direct contradiction to laws and policies meant to protect public health: - paying policymakers to block or water down tobacco control laws; - influencing science and providing biased expert opinion in public and government forums - delaying measures such as graphical pictorial warnings on cigarette packs; - offering to draft countries’ national non-communicable disease strategies, so that they focus more on increasing physical activity rather than reducing tobacco consumption. While tobacco industry interference in policymaking is a long-standing problem, the trend has been picking up steam in developing countries, with WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan stating that “the wolf is no longer bothering to wear sheep’s clothing.”  However, countries working to protect their citizens’ health … Read more

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