WHO DG Dr Tedros & Mr Michael R. Bloomberg, Founder, Bloomberg Philanthropies, to open the Leadership Summit on Tobacco Control

The Leadership Summit on Tobacco or Health will be inaugurated with keynote speeches from the Hon Micheál Martin (Irish Taoiseach), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, of the World Health Organisation,  Mr Michael R. Bloomberg, Founder, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Guy Marks, President of The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.

Stephen Donnelly, Minister of Health for Ireland, will also address the Opening Plenary of the Summit.

 The Summit is being organised by the secretariat of the 18th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH) which was due to take place in Dublin, Ireland, in March 2021 but due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has now been postponed until 2023 in the same city. The Summit will take place on the eve of the 52nd Union World Conference on Lung Health taking place virtually October 19-22.

Worldwide, tobacco use kills eight million people every year – including 65,000 children who die from illnesses caused by second-hand smoke.

“If tobacco was a virus, its global impact would be called a pandemic and countries would martial the same urgency and resources to defeat it as they have for COVID-19,” said Dr Tedros. “We know that tobacco kills and increases the risk for a wide range of diseases, including severe COVID-19, which is why WHO has launched the year-long campaign to encourage and support 100 million tobacco users to quit. We call on all countries to support this effort by accelerating implementation of proven cessation tools through the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.”

 The Summit 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. “We can wait until 2023 to meet in Dublin but the conversation on finding solutions to the tobacco epidemic cannot wait. 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.”

 “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 WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and Injuries. “We face a number of urgent, overlapping challenges – as COVID-19 continues to pose 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.”

The Leadership Summit will feature 4 key plenary sessions around several key themes:

  • Navigating Change – Leading with Impact
  • Making the tobacco endgame real: Challenges and opportunities in a changing environment
  • Evolving nicotine and tobacco products: challenges and way forward
  • Reforming National Tobacco Tax Policy: Perspectives from Health and Finance Leaders.

Michael Bloomberg has been a long-time champion of tobacco control since 2007, having committed over $1 billion to combat tobacco use across the globe. At the last WCTOH in 2018, Bloomberg launched Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP), a global tobacco industry watchdog that is monitoring nefarious tobacco industry tactics and practices. In 2019, Bloomberg Philanthropies launched a new initiative focused on banning flavoured e-cigarettes in the United States in response to the growing number of kids using e-cigarettes, particularly middle and high schoolers. 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.

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. People with pre-existing non-communicable diseases, for which tobacco use is a leading risk factor – are also more vulnerable.

 “It is vital then that we leverage the Leadership Summit  to remain focused on our goal to implement evidence-based policies set out in the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and end the tobacco epidemic,” said Professor Harry Lando, of the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota, U.S. and Chair of the WCTOH Organising Committee.

 “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 Guy Marks, President of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union). The Union is the convenor of the WCTOH Secretariat.

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