World #NoTobacco Day: Lessons from Uruguay to achieve a smoke-free world

May 17, 2013


Mujeres fuman fuera de una oficina

  • Former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vásquez will outline at the WB his country's leadership in creating smoke-free spaces.
  • More than 5.6 million people die each year from tobacco consumption and its effects.
  • Tobacco is the second most common cause of death worldwide after high blood pressure.

You light a cigarette, take the first drag, create your own cloud of smoke and five minutes later the butt lands in the ash tray.

Progress has been made though. The WHO says that more than1 billion people now live in countries with legislation that requires large graphic health warnings on every cigarette pack sold in their countries. Additionally, 1.9 billion people live in the 23 countries that have aired high quality national anti-tobacco mass media campaigns within the past two years.

In this short time span 50 people worldwide will have died from repeating this very same action innumerable times. The total number of fatalities: 5.6 million people each year, or 10 a minute, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

World No Tobacco Day, celebrated by the WHO on 31 May, this year includes one of the most influential voices against the cigarette: Oncologist and ex-President of Uruguay, Dr Tabaré Vázquez, who succeeded in making his country one of the first to ensure 100% smoke-free spaces were created in 2005.

Vásquez will talk on May 30 about Uruguay’s regional leadership role in reducing tobacco consumption in front of an audience of health experts at World Bank headquarters in Washington DC. The event will also be broadcast online from this web page and on Twitter via the #sintabaco hashtag.

Uruguay’s no-smoking policy is one of the most successful in Latin America and the Caribbean given that it focusses on multiple sectors in society, and in particular on teenagers.

As a result of these measures, tobacco consumption within urban areas in Uruguay (home to 95% of the population) saw one of the quickest declines in the world between 2006 and 2009. The biggest drop was recorded in smokers aged between 15 and 24, whose numbers were reduced by 44% during this period.

Eight countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have 100% smoke-free public environments while the rest of the region has a smoke ban on at least five key public places, according to a WHO study. These countries include: Barbados, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Panamá, Perú, Tinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay. 

Tobacco consumption is the second most common cause of death worldwide after high blood pressure, killing one in ten adults. Furthermore, some 600,000 non-smokers die due to so-called ‘passive smoking’ after breathing in smoke exhaled by nearby smokers.

The theme of World No Tobacco Day in 2013 is to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, a goal to which all signatories of the Framework Convention for the Control of Tobacco have committed in the next five years.

Uruguay was the first South American country to ratify the aforementioned convention and the first middle-income country to pass legislation creating 100% smoke-free spaces.