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Mike Bloomberg delivers remarks at the launch of the WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic

The following is the text of Michael R. Bloomberg’s remarks as prepared for the release of the WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2017 at the United Nations on Wednesday, July 19, 2017:

“Thank you, Dr. Tedros. Good afternoon, everyone. And to all of you visiting from around the globe: welcome to New York. This is one of the world’s most international cities – more than 200 languages are spoken here. As mayor, I became fluent in all of them. (Just don’t test me.)

“I want to begin by thanking all of you who have contributed to the great progress outlined in the new WHO report on global tobacco use. Bloomberg Philanthropies has been honored to work with WHO and many of you over the last decade to help make that progress possible.

“Our foundation has contributed nearly $1 billion to fight the tobacco epidemic and help save lives. It’s the single largest commitment we’ve made, and it’s hard to imagine a better investment. Ten years ago, one in seven people was protected by an MPOWER tobacco control measure. Today, two in three people are.

“That’s an increase of 3.6 billion people. Because of that, global sales of cigarettes are declining for the first time since mass production began more than a century ago. Most importantly, that progress has saved about 30 million lives.

“Ten years ago, I don’t think anyone would have believed we’d have achieved so much – and our momentum is building. We’re on track to save 100 million lives by 2030. That’s more people than live in most countries! That really is incredible, and it’s something to celebrate today.

“But it also serves as a stark reminder of just how enormous a problem tobacco remains, and how much work there is left to do. Globally, adult smoking rates have fallen from nearly 24% in 2007 to about 21% today. That’s good, but that means more than one in five adults still smoke.

“Tobacco is responsible for one of every ten deaths in the world. At the rate we’re going, tobacco will kill half a billion people alive today. We can’t accept that! And we don’t have to. Together, we’ve defied expectations and made more progress than anyone dreamed possible. So let’s aim even higher!

“There’s no limit to what we can achieve when we work together. And the good news is, this report gives us a great blueprint for action by pointing to areas where we can do more. For instance, tobacco taxes are the single most effective way to prevent smoking. But the report shows that taxes are the least widespread of all MPOWER measures.

“Only 10% of the world is covered by adequate tobacco taxes. That’s about the same number as were covered three years ago. So while we’re making great strides overall, when it comes to the most effective way to prevent smoking, we’re barely moving forward at all. We have to change that.

“To help, our foundation is funding a special unit at WHO focused on spreading tobacco taxes. We’re also funding a team at the World Bank, and another at the University of Illinois, that are both working with countries to help them overcome barriers to passing tobacco taxes.

“At the same time, we need to do a better job keeping track of the problem. Only one in three countries has a comprehensive monitoring system in place to measure tobacco use. Without that information, governments don’t know how to target their efforts or whether they’re working, and it prevents them from offering help to those who need it.

“Measurement and taxes are two big parts of the MPOWER package. While it’s great that 121 countries have adopted at least one policy compared to only 42 ten years ago, we can’t be satisfied with that. We need more countries to take a comprehensive approach, by implementing the whole package.

“Our foundation is committed to continuing this fight – and to winning. Last year, I was asked to serve as WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases. I was honored to accept, and I’m looking forward to working with Dr. Tedros in his new role.

“For the first time in human history, more people are dying from noncommunicable diseases like cancer and heart disease than are from infectious diseases like polio and tuberculosis. These killers account for about 67% of all deaths in low- and middle-income countries – 40 million people each year. Many of them are caused by tobacco.

“These diseases haven’t gotten the attention they deserve. But the world’s cities are stepping up to help change that.

“Mayors can act quickly to put effective policies in place, and their success can spur action at a national level. So we’ve launched a Partnership for Healthy Cities that is helping spread smart local policies aimed at NCDs, including MPOWER policies.

“I’m optimistic that we can make great progress addressing the leading causes of NCDs, because through our work on tobacco, we’ve seen what’s possible.

“It hasn’t been easy. The tobacco industry has fought back at every step, and they won’t quit now. So let’s keep the good work going, and this report is an important part of that. It will help motivate more cities and countries to take action, and our foundation is committed to helping them, and supporting all of you.

“I look forward to working with WHO and all of you to save more lives. Thank you all for your leadership and your great work. All the best.”

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