Almost 5 months after the 50th Anniversary of the first U.S. Surgeon-General's Report on the Hazards of Smoking, Airspace Action on Smoking and Health -- the world's leading all volunteer anti-tobacco organization -- is marking the World Health Organization's 26th annual World No Tobacco Day (May 31, 2014) by once again renewing our call for the total eradication of the tobacco industry (yes, both the legal and illegal components) from the face of the planet.
Themes for WNTDs have covered a wide range of very worthwhile ideas and initiatives over the past 26 years, including:
- Public places and transport: better be tobacco free (1991);
- Tobacco free workplaces: safer and healthier (1992);
- Health services: our windows to a tobacco free world (1993);
- Sport and art without tobacco: play it tobacco free (1996);
- United for a tobacco free world (1997);
- Tobacco free sports (2002);
- Tobacco free film, tobacco free fashion (2003); and
- Tobacco free youth (2009) [emphasis mine throughout].
Many other themes use the words "without tobacco", clearly implying tobacco free as well.
As wonderful as all of those objectives are -- tobacco free public places, transport, workplaces, sport, art, film, fashion, youth, etc. -- a tobacco free world is the 'umbrella' that covers all of those things and, clearly, much more.
I find it hard to believe that the WHO, via WNTD, was calling for a tobacco free world 21 years ago! Yet today, despite all of the wonderful progress since 1993, the global death toll from tobacco continues to rise, currently standing at about 6 million per year (about 10% of whom are non-smokers, I might add).
In 2010, my personal WNTD project was called the "Journey for a Tobacco Free World" ( www.tobaccofreeworld.ca ). Walking and running (okay, mostly walking), I did a marathon a day, 6 days a week for 6 months. The Journey started at Mile Zero of the Trans Canada highway in Victoria, B.C....and took me through Nanaimo, Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, then south to New York City, making it both international and trans continental. While I very much appreciated the media coverage the issue got at that time, my journey didn't garner anywhere near the attention that a similar trek against alcohol/drunk driving, legal/illegal drugs, AIDS or any number of other worthwhile causes would have received, despite the fact that tobacco kills more people than virtually all of those 'causes', combined!
And, while I received some 'personal' support from a few individuals within the following organizations, the organizations themselves refused to, in any way, sponsor me...or even just 'endorse' the run: Health Canada, the B.C. Ministry of Health, Canadian Cancer Society, the Lung Association, the Heart & Stroke Foundation, B.C. Medical Association, the B.C. Nurses' Union, the Terry Fox Foundation, the Rick Hansen Foundation and others.
When we talk about every other disease out there, the ultimate goal is eradication! Whether it's through any one or a combination of education, prevention, legislation, research, treatments, vaccines, etc., the goal for all non-tobacco diseases is to find a CURE...and, ultimately, the total eradication of that disease. Whether it be polio, breast cancer, chicken pox, prostate cancer, malaria, AIDS, etc., etc., etc., the goal is eradication!
But, when we talk about tobacco/the tobacco industry (certainly in this context, those two terms are completely interchangeable) -- the leading (and most easily and cheaply preventable) cause of disease, disability and premature death (mostly via heart disease, lung cancer, COPD, emphysema, not to mention extremely slick marketing and advertising, aimed at kid...most notably/tragically, in developing nations, etc.) -- suddenly/magically, we switch from eradication to...wait for it..."control".
Yup, like any of us, individually or collectively, will ever truly "control" either tobacco or the rogue and predatory multi-billion dollar industry that produces it. Anybody who seriously believes that has been smoking something a lot stronger -- albeit less deadly -- than tobacco.
With the utmost of respect to the WHO and WNTD, I see "Raise taxes on tobacco" (the theme for WNTD 2014) as yet another 'baby step'. Clearly, there was a time in this fight when baby steps were completely appropriate. But, 50 years after the first U.S. Surgeon-General's Report on the Hazards of Smoking, it's time for much more of a sledge hammer approach.
Airspace Action on Smoking and Health has not just one, but two "sledge hammers"! And they're both 100% legal!
We'd love to provide some info about these sledge hammers, but that would mean revealing it to Big Tobacco too...who would simply reach into their extremely deep pockets, yet again, and -- among many other tricks they have up their sleeves to sabotage such worthwhile global health initiatives -- buy themselves a few more politicians.
Stay tuned...things are about to get as hot for Big Tobacco as the temperature of cigarette-ignited fires!