UN Supports Comprehensive Tobacco-Control Legislation in Georgia

May 2, 2017

Photo: Vladimer Valishvili/UNDP

The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) called for a press conference on May 2, 2017, to support the adoption of the Tobacco-Control Law in Georgia.

Representatives of the United Nations - Marijan Ivanuša, WHO Representative in Georgia; Shombi Sharp, UNDP Resident Representative a.i. in Georgia; Andrew Black, Team Leader of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Secretariat, and Kristina Mauer Stender, Program Manager of the WHO Regional Office for Europe, updated the media about preliminary findings of the FCTC Investment Case – recent research implemented by the WHO and UNDP to promote implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in Georgia.

They also informed about economic burden of tobacco smoking in Georgia, importance and practical implications of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) for the member states, and key measures of tobacco control. 

WHO and UNDP statement

The UN Country Team in Georgia welcomes the efforts of the Government and the Parliament of Georgia to address tobacco smoking – an issue on which Georgia is one of the worst performing countries.

Tobacco smoking causes addiction and results in devastating consequences for individuals, their families and all of society. In Georgia, the prevalence of smoking among men is among the highest in the world at approximately 57%; the prevalence of smoking among women, despite still being relatively low, has almost doubled in the recent years. Thousands of smokers and people exposed to tobacco smoke suffer from numerous diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, lung diseases and cancers. Half of all long-term smokers will be killed early by a smoking-related disease. Approximately 11,000 citizens of Georgia die prematurely every year from diseases caused by tobacco, and among those are approximately 3,000 non-smokers. The alarming figures clearly indicate a need for strong and imminent action in tobacco control.

The draft legislation being considered by the Parliament this week would be a significant step forward in saving lives, growing the economy and further integrating the country with the European Union.

The significant harms of tobacco use on developing countries are usually understood primarily as health issue. This overlooks the extensive impact of tobacco on social, economic and environmental progress. Tobacco control is a development issue and its success relies on the work of other sectors such as commerce, trade, finance, justice and education. This is why the international community agreed to include the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) is the first international treaty negotiated under the auspices of WHO. It was adopted by the World Health Assembly on 21 May 2003. It has since become one of the most rapidly and widely embraced treaties in United Nations history. The WHO FCTC was developed in response to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic and is an evidence-based treaty that reaffirms the right of all people to the highest standard of health. The Convention represents a milestone for the promotion of public health and provides new legal dimensions for international health cooperation. Georgia was among the first countries to ratify the WHO FCTC treaty in 2006.

Tobacco industry interferes extensively with the process of enacting a strict and comprehensive tobacco control law. Passage of the draft legislation would align Georgia with its obligations as a Party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), and help meet Article 356 of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement, which makes FCTC implementation a pre-condition for further European integration.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of morbidity and premature mortality and it is critical that Georgia endorses comprehensive and strict tobacco control legislation.

Preliminary findings of the Georgia FCTC Investment Case

To provide additional evidence for the tobacco control in Georgia, the WHO FCTC Secretariat, with UNDP and WHO, are piloting an FCTC Investment Case. One of the United Kingdom-funded activities estimates the economic costs of inaction on tobacco control and the benefits of scaled up action such as that found in the draft legislation.

A preliminary study from the United Nations Development Programme and WHO indicates that:

  • Tobacco costs the Georgian economy roughly 2% of GDP per year.
  • The economic productivity losses from tobacco use are approximately GEL 455 million annually (86% of the total burden), while healthcare expenditures on tobacco-related disease is GEL 73.5 million (14% of the total).
  • Case studies from other countries in the region indicate that a total ban on smoking in restaurants and bars is likely to have a neutral to positive impact on revenue for the hospitality sector in the short- to medium-term. Employment gains are more likely for this sector than job losses.
  • By implementing a legislative package such as the one proposed, Georgia could save approximately GEL 27 million per year (assuming a reduction of 2% in smoking prevalence per year).

The power of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

  • The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) is an international treaty, the first under the auspices of WHO, which entered into force on 27 February 2005.
  • It is the first international legal instrument designed to reduce tobacco consumption and tobacco-related deaths and disease around the world.  The WHO FCTC presents governments with a blueprint for their tobacco control strategies.
  • There are 180 countries that have ratified the WHO FCTC.  Countries that have ratified the treaty have legal obligations to implement the tobacco control measures set out in the treaty.
  • Georgia ratified the WHO FCTC treaty in February 2006.
  • Georgia has been selected as the only country in the WHO European region (and as one out of only fifteen countries globally) to benefit from FCTC 2030 Project.

Key measures of tobacco-control

Strong picture warnings: Hard-hitting anti-tobacco advertisements and graphic pack warnings – especially those that include pictures – reduce the number of children who begin smoking and increase the number of smokers who quit. Graphic warnings can persuade smokers to protect the health of non-smokers by smoking less inside the home and avoiding smoking near children. In Georgia, strong visual warnings on cigarette packs would lead to a relative decrease of 6% in smoking prevalence in 5 years (ref. SimSmoke modelling, Georgetown University)

Comprehensive ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship could decrease tobacco consumption by an average of about 7%, with some countries experiencing a decline in consumption of up to 16%. In Georgia, a comprehensive ban on all tobacco advertising would lead to a relative decrease of 10% in smoking prevalence in 5 years (ref. SimSmoke modelling, Georgetown University)

Tobacco taxes are the most cost-effective way to reduce tobacco use, especially among young and poor people. A tax increase that increases tobacco prices by 10% decreases tobacco consumption by about 4% in high-income countries and about 5% in low- and middle-income countries. In Georgia, high tobacco taxes would lead to a relative decrease of 18.2% in smoking prevalence in 5 years (ref. SimSmoke modelling, Georgetown University). High tobacco taxes are win-win-win measure as they contribute to better health, growing the economy and increasing government revenue to finance other development and health initiatives.

Complete ban of smoking in all enclosed work and public places, incuding public transport. Clear positive results can be seen already 6 months after the entry into force of smoke-free public places. In Georgia, a complete ban on smoking in all indoor public places would lead to a relative decrease of 5.4% in smoking prevalence in 5 years (ref. SimSmoke modelling, Georgetown University)

Strictly regulating “e-cigarettes” or positioning them equally to other tobacco products.

Protecting public health from the vested and commercial interests of the tobacco industry.

Providing advice and support to those who want to quit tobacco smoking.

With the strong set of policies consistent with the WHO FCTC, smoking prevalence can be reduced by 40% within 5 years in Georgia (ref. SimSmoke modelling, Georgetown University).

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