King Hussein Cancer Center hosts international experts to support tobacco control in Jordan

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The King Hussein Cancer Center (KHCC) -Cancer Control Office- held a national technical conference entitled ”Strengthening Tobacco Control in Jordan” earlier this week. With all stakeholders –governmental and non-governmental- represented, the conference sought to create a forum to share national successes and benefit from the experience of international experts in informing Jordan’s tobacco control plans and strengthening tobacco control advocacy. The conference hosted Dr. Judith Mackay from the World Lung Foundation, Dr. Richard Hurt from Mayo Clinic, and Dr. Fatimah ElAwa from the World Health Organization-EMRO. Jordan is proud to be the first country in the region to undertake such a comprehensive effort and to host such renowned global expertise to endorse and inform national plans.

Discussions focused on prioritizing tobacco control as a national concern given the health, financial, and social benefits to be gained. The discussions also focused on the importance of monitoring industry strategies and tactics, and the value of upgrading legislation to advance and serve tobacco control. The conference highlighted certain tobacco control strategies that are much needed in Jordan, namely raising taxes, enforcing smokefree environments, and availing tobacco dependence treatment.

The conference comes as a follow-up to earlier efforts undertaken at the national level to review the status of tobacco control in Jordan, set priorities, and devise high-level plans to address these priorities. The review covered analysis of the National Agenda and Government of Jordan Plan to assess whether tobacco control is considered a national priority; collecting data on prevalence, treatment options, and awareness campaigns; a comprehensive legislative stock-take and analysis; and a survey of public opinion on knowledge and support of tobacco control. Results highlighted gaps in Jordan against the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and other evidence-based tobacco control frameworks, providing a baseline for working groups to identify national priorities. However, the report also depicted weak prioritization of tobacco control among national goals, a clear weakness in industry monitoring, and gaps in laws that -as a unit- still fall short of protecting the health of Jordanians. Accordingly, these areas were the focus of this conference seeking to present experiences from the world that can inform Jordan’s progress and provide models to follow.

Dr. Asem Mansour, Director General of KHCC indicated that this conference comes at a time when the world is celebrating World No Tobacco Day. The conference comes to discuss effective mechanisms seeking to strengthen national tobacco control, find solutions, and create programs that can deal with the epidemic. KHCC continues to support smokefree environments through creating awareness and exploring the experiences of other countries to learn from their successes.

Dr. Feras Hawari, director of the Cancer Control Office, said: international experts as well as national statistics warn of a catastrophe in Jordan if no immediate and firm action is taken to control the prevalence of smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke. Yet, tobacco control is still not considered a national priority. We anticipate that this conference will add to the momentum created earlier through releasing the Status Quo of Tobacco Control in Jordan Report, and that it will initiate change at the national level in terms of enforcement of smoking bans especially in government offices, schools, and hospitals; as well as change in national policies addressing the licensing and control of cafes and other outlets that serve and sell waterpipe, including banning minors from patronizing those establishments. It is critical that our message reaches decision makes given the expected rise in incidence of chronic diseases: a recent national report indicates that 28% of Jordanians over the age of 25 suffer from at least one chronic disease. Regionally, these rates are expected to rise by 25% in the near future leading to unbearable health and economic burdens.

Dr. Mackay, senior advisor at the World Lung Foundation, warned “Tobacco will have a catastrophic economic impact on Jordan in the very near future, as health care costs, lost productivity, premature death, and the indirect costs will all sharply rise. Tobacco control is good for the wealth as well as the health of Jordan. It is imperative to research and collate information on the behavior of the tobacco companies in Jordan: what do they fund, what influence they command, who sits on their boards, and which government departments do they meet. Not until there is a clear understanding of the “vector” of this epidemic – the industry – will tobacco control be successful. Tax is the most important component of a comprehensive tobacco control policy. Cigarettes in Jordan are extremely cheap. Raising tax to prevent young people from smoking is a win-win situation – it will raise more money for the government; it will deter youth from starting to smoke; and it will encourage smokers to quit.”

Dr. Hurt, professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic, said “Jordan is poised to be the leader in the region in preventing premature deaths from smoking and making the country a healthier place to live. We need to treat tobacco use and dependence for the serious medical problem it is. Left untreated over 60% of smokers will die of a tobacco-caused disease. A comprehensive approach not only includes treatment for individual smokers but also public policies such as smoke-free workplaces, higher taxes, restriction of sales so that children cannot obtain the product among many other policies.”