Today was our fourth and second to last day at the 66th World Health Assembly. We know the building pretty well now and have oriented ourselves with the best laptop, phone, iPad charging spots in the café. The day consists of rushing between round tables, interviews and major committee events. One thing I have noticed is no matter where you are, the hallway, the café, a special event or a large committee meeting, you are likely to hear about tobacco as a major non-communicable disease (NCD) risk factor. This had myself and many delegates and speakers reflecting on how such a well-known behavior-related danger is still so present worldwide in both developing and developed nations.
NCD Epidemic Panel
In a panel on the NCD epidemic there was a lot of discussion about current tobacco initiatives in Russia, South Africa, Ghana, Chile and Singapore. In this event the World Health Organization’s Assistant Director-General Oleg Chestov was unhappy with nation’s focusing on tobacco reduction percentages and suggested that instead of reducing tobacco use by 30% in the next five years, we should eradicate it immediately. We know it is dangerous; we have the evidence, and yet the goals presented are only delayed step-by-step attainments.
In this panel the Minister of Health in South Africa mentioned a proposal brought up at a previous conference suggesting the UN pass a regulation to ban smoking worldwide. This pitch seems extreme but he believes that although it would take time, tobacco could be completely gone by 2040.
Perhaps a ludicrous approach should be taken seriously, especially when many delegates this year are bringing up the major inconsistency that the WHA itself is not a smoke free event.
In the United States, Health and Human Services makes an effort to congratulate leaders in their smoking cessation efforts in local communities and schools. USC is not smoke free even though UCLA has recently taken the leap. Perhaps it is up to the MPH students to work towards passing university regulation and gain support from the student community to be a smoke free campus. In the NCD interventions panel, Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, made a strong statement for the future of tobacco, saying, “let’s not be a society that who thinks smoking is normal and instead be for health.”
Students with United States HHS Assistant Secretary Dr. Howard Koh