The Secretariat of the 18th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH) announced today that it will host the first Leadership Summit on Tobacco Control from 6-7 May 2021. The 18th WCTOH was due to take place in Dublin, Ireland in March 2021, but due to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been postponed.
Michael R Bloomberg, entrepreneur and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, and Stephen Donnelly, Minister of Health for Ireland, will address the Summit as keynote speakers.
In recognition of the importance of strong and collaborative leadership in addressing tobacco use, they will be joined by heads of state and national and subnational governments, as well as prominent global health leaders, the scientific community and civil society – however, tobacco control advocates from any background and sector will be encouraged to join and participate in sessions.
Worldwide, tobacco use kills eight million people every year – including 65,000 children who die from illnesses caused by second-hand smoke. Today there are new and evolving challenges. Increasingly scientific evidence is demonstrating that smokers are more likely to be infected by COVID-19, and more likely to experience a more severe or deadly form of the virus.
At the same time, the tobacco industry is actively exploiting the pandemic to improve its public image through offering donations and support to governments under the guise of ‘corporate social responsibility’ activities.
“With so many lives at stake, this first-ever Summit comes at a critical time for global leaders in tobacco control,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg LP and three-term mayor of New York City. “We face a number of urgent, overlapping challenges – as COVID-19 poses a deadly threat to respiratory health, as tobacco companies try to exploit the pandemic to burnish their images, and as low- and middle-income countries confront the growing burden of tobacco-related diseases. But, together, we can tackle these challenges – and continue to make life-saving progress with our partners in the fight against tobacco, worldwide.”
Mike Bloomberg has been a long-time champion of tobacco control since 2007, having committed nearly US$ 1 billion to combat tobacco use across the globe. Bloomberg Philanthropies’ tobacco control initiative focuses on advancing interventions that are proven to help curb tobacco use and save lives. Since it began, 65 countries have passed comprehensive tobacco control laws, protecting more than 3.5 billion individuals against the harmful effects of tobacco, which will save 35 million lives.
Convening under the theme ‘Navigating Change’, the event will focus conversations on the changing landscape of tobacco, the emergence of new nicotine and tobacco products like e-cigarettes, and the tobacco industry’s attempt to re-brand itself as part of the solution to the tobacco epidemic – whilst continuing to aggressively market its traditional products in lower- and middle-income countries, where 80 percent of tobacco-caused deaths occur. The programme will also focus on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on tobacco control, human rights and health financing.
“We are obviously disappointed that the WCTOH is not coming to Ireland next year as planned,” said Stephen Donnelly, the Minister of Health for Ireland. “But while the meeting in Dublin in 2022 can wait, the conversation around finding solutions to the tobacco epidemic cannot. The COVID-19 pandemic brings new urgency to combatting the tobacco epidemic. The Irish government is very proud to be leading on this important event.”
Delegate registration for the Leadership Summit on Tobacco Control will open January 2021, and its full programme will also be announced then. “We encourage tobacco control advocates from all backgrounds, working in all sectors, to join and participate in sessions, and we will endeavour to make this event as accessible and affordable as possible,” said José Luis Castro, Executive Director of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union). The Union is the convenor of the WCTOH Secretariat.
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