Dr Kelly Henning, Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Health Lead talks tobacco control on the eve of WCTOH

Q1. What drew you to public health?

What’s most appealing to me about working in public health is the sheer scale of our impact. In the past, I’ve done clinical practice, where the focus is on one patient at a time, which is important. But by working in public health, I have the opportunity to help improve the health and lives of millions of people. That’s what really speaks to me.

Q2. This year’s WCTOH event brings together representatives from more than 100 countries. Why is it important to have a global conversation about tobacco control?

Tobacco kills seven million people a year, mostly in low-and middle-income countries, areas that are targets of intensive tobacco industry marketing. Tobacco use is a risk factor for every noncommunicable disease (NCD), and NCDs are responsible for 70% of deaths worldwide.

The good news is that this global problem has a global solution. The MPOWER package was designed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to advance tobacco control policies that we know work, including:

Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies

Protect people from tobacco smoke

Offer help to quit tobacco use

Warn about the dangers of tobacco

Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship

Raise taxes on tobacco

One hundred and twenty-one countries have at least one MPOWER measure in place, but as the tobacco industry looks to expand its customer base in low- and middle-income countries, we must double down and broaden our efforts to stem tobacco use. Since 2007, Bloomberg Philanthropies has committed nearly $1 billion to combat tobacco use worldwide using these measures, saving nearly 35 million lives.

Q3. Tell us more about the 2018 Bloomberg Philanthropies MPOWER Awards.

The fight against tobacco is truly a global one, and nations around the world are making great progress in implementing anti-tobacco policies. These awards are designed to celebrate the tangible progress that NGOs and governments in low- and middle-income countries have made in harnessing the MPOWER policies to tackle tobacco use. These organizations are setting an example for tobacco control efforts around the world and blazing the trail for a healthier future for their citizens.

Q4. What are the most important things we can do in the next year to continue the fight against the tobacco industry?

We must work to increase the political commitment to reduce tobacco use and resist the pressures of the tobacco industry. We know what works, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control clearly lays out the evidence and countries have committed – now we need to do the implementation needed to save millions of lives in the coming decades.

Q5. What do you see as the biggest threat(s) to tobacco cessation efforts?

While we are making great strides in reducing tobacco use worldwide, the tobacco industry continues to fight back with sophisticated marketing schemes. The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World that has received initial funding from Philip Morris International is a thinly veiled attempt to gain access to the policymaking table and grow its profit margins by diverting attending from MPOWER and the FCTC. The tobacco industry continues to market its combustible cigarettes to children and teenagers in low- and middle-income countries around the world. We must be vigilant in calling out these pernicious efforts to keep us hooked on harmful products.


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