Speech – World No Tobacco Day 2014: award ceremony for Dr Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, President of Turkmenistan

11 June 2014, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Every 6 seconds someone in the world dies from tobacco use. Tobacco kills up to half of its users. It kills nearly 6 million people each year: 1.6 million of them die in Europe.

The European Region is the WHO region with the highest proportion of deaths attributable to tobacco in the world – this is one first place we should not be proud of. Our Region has also the largest amount of adult smokers; the fact that 28% of adults smoke in the European Region contrasts sharply with Africa’s 15% and the 19% in the South-East Asia Region. Tobacco use continues to spread death and disease and has economic consequences to the health sector which we would never accept if the product was developed and marketed today.

In 2003, just about 10 years ago, the World Health Assembly adopted the first global health treaty: the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). This was the result of concerted actions to stem the rising global tobacco epidemic: 50 countries out of 53 in the WHO European Region have ratified the FCTC and are bound by its legal obligations, including Turkmenistan. Despite a large number of ratifications in the Region and many policy changes to align national policies with the FCTC, a lot remains yet to be done. There is no room for complacency.

While the European Region has global leadership in high tobacco taxes, we are far from having the same high standing in other key tobacco-control policy areas, such as smoke-free public places, cessation services, bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and strong pictorial warnings.

Europe is moving in the right direction but progress since 2007 has not been sufficient to protect the health of the European people as they deserve and to support tougher policies. Full implementation of the FCTC throughout the Region is paramount. Ministers of health of our Region clearly committed to it by adopting the Ashgabat Declaration on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases in the Context of Health 2020 last December. Allow me, once again, Your Excellency, to thank you and your country for hosting such an important international meeting on key health issues here in Turkmenistan.

Since 2000, Turkmenistan has made outstanding progress in tobacco control. Enforcing a ban on smoking in all public places in 2000, ratifying the FCTC in 2011 and adopting one of the strongest comprehensive tobacco-control laws in 2013, the country has become one of the tobacco-control leaders in the European Region. Strong and continuous tobacco control measures are clearly expressed in low smoking prevalence rates among the adult population. The recent WHO Stepwise approach to chronic disease risk factor surveillance (STEPS) survey confirms that only 8% of Turkmen population smokes. This is the lowest rate of smokers at national level in the Region, as well as globally.

Being a regional leader in tobacco control comes with a responsibility and obligation to sustain the success and do even more. I am confident that Turkmenistan is not only committed but also ready to achieve and even go beyond the global voluntary target on tobacco use by 2025.The vision for tobacco-free Turkmenistan may be your national target by 2025. We, as the WHO Regional Office for Europe, stand ready to support you.

This progress is a testament to Turkmenistan’s sustained political commitment to tobacco control, and is an excellent example of collaboration between government and WHO. Turkmenistan is one of the countries in the Region that several other countries can refer to as source of inspiration.