Highlights from the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health, Cape Town, South Africa

The 17th WCTOH was held in Cape Town, South Africa from 7-9 March 2018, under the theme ‘Uniting the World for a Tobacco-Free Generation’, recognising that tobacco control is a global issue, crossing all geographic boundaries.

The scientific programme covered critical challenges to tobacco control, including breaking research on e-cigarettes, point-of-sale bans, flavoured cigarettes and financial impact of smoking; and sessions dedicated to preventing tobacco industry interference in policy making.

On the first day of the 17th WCTOH, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, South Africa Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, entrepreneur and philanthropist Michael R. Bloomberg, and Head of the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva warned against Big Tobacco’s increasing efforts to undermine global advances in tobacco control.

“The tobacco industry is targeting low- and middle-income countries — that’s why it’s so important that the conference is here,” said Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus. “The focus must be on accelerating the WHO FCTC. Now is the time for all countries to live up to their commitments and comply with their obligations. Tobacco wrecks health and is a drain on economies and the environment. It tears families apart. And it is entirely preventable.”

During the conference, Michael R Bloomberg announced the winners of the 2018 Bloomberg Philanthropies Awards for Global Tobacco Control at a spectacular gala event. The 2018 winners highlighted the progress being made to control tobacco use and showed the effectiveness of the MPOWER measures to reduce tobacco use.

On International Women’s Day, 8 March, which coincided with the 17th WCTOH, a plenary titled Women, Development and Tobacco Control was led by high-level panellists, who called for equity in tobacco control leadership, for gender and sex to be incorporated into tobacco control research as standard.

Professor Judith Mackay, senior advisor at Vital Strategies, opened the session with a global overview of women’s relationship to tobacco. She highlighted that smoking rates amongst women are still much lower than men, but that the picture was shifting, with significant increases in use amongst women and girls in some low- and middle-income countries:

“The tobacco industry is manipulating women into bondage, not freedom. They target advertising to attract women, using images of slim and liberated women on packaging and in advertising campaigns. But tobacco addiction is bondage.”

The final plenary of the conference was dedicated to tobacco control’s most powerful policy: increasing tobacco tax. Dr Frank Chaloupka, Economy Professor at the University of Illinois opened the session: “When we raise taxes, we raise prices, we reduce tobacco use. The evidence is really clear.”

At the conference close, Dr Harry Lando, Chair of the WCTOH Organising Committee, announced eleven declarations of the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health. Thanking delegates, organisers and speakers for their contribution to the success of the conference, he emphasised the significance of holding the conference in Africa for the first time.

Dr Fenton Howell from the Department of Health, Ireland, was then invited on stage to announce that the 18th World Conference on Tobacco of Health will be held in Dublin, Ireland, a country with a long and proud history in tobacco control.

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