Putting the “O” in Action: Commentary on 2015 WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic

The World Health Organization (WHO) last week published its periodic assessment of the state of global tobacco use and control. This year’s report is particularly important, as it comes during the tenth anniversary of the world’s first public health treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The report assesses progress on the six “MPOWER” measures that all countries in the world have been urged to use in their efforts to implement the FCTC. There is good news in this year’s report: the number of people worldwide who are now covered by one or more of the six MPOWER measures has substantially increased since the FCTC came into force in 2005. However, the tobacco industry has re-doubled its efforts, especially in low- and middle-income countries, to maintain and expand use of its deadly products. Continued vigilance, and action, are clearly needed.

With respect to “OFFER help to quit tobacco use”, the MPOWER measure of most direct relevance to the Global Bridges initiative, WHO reports an increase in the number of people with access to treatment support, to 15 percent of the world’s population, but also reports that implementation of the “O” lags behind other policy areas. In fact, only 24 countries, or 12 percent of the parties to the FCTC, reported complete implementation of cessation programs, lower than for any other MPOWER measure. No low-income countries reported offering complete support, but relatively low-cost interventions such as Cessation and quitlines continue to show promise.

For the Global Bridges community, this WHO report provides a clear call to action — encouragement to prepare governments and healthcare professionals worldwide to meet the growing demand for cessation support which will result from increased implementation of other MPOWER measures. The ongoing work of Global Bridges grantees and partners in all six WHO regions, regularly featured on this website, aims to ensure that implementation of the “O” catches up with other policy areas, so that tobacco users who are inspired to quit by higher tobacco taxes or smokefree policies in their country can have the best chance of success.