Albania, host of SEEHN meeting, scales up implementation of WHO FCTC with smoke-free public places
Since January 2014, Albania has made noticeable progress in implementing smoke-free public places. Thus, Albania was chosen to host in Tirana on 18–20 November 2015 a subregional meeting on scaling up implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in South-eastern Europe Health Network (SEEHN) countries. "One of the reasons we decided to hold this meeting in Albania is the strong commitment of the Minister of Health to attain a smoke-free Albania. WHO has gathered representatives from 11 countries to see the progress in Albania, and learn from their experience," said Kristina Mauer-Stender, Programme Manager, Tobacco Control at WHO/Europe.
The Albanian Minister of Health, Ilir Beqaj, opened the meeting and described how the Albanian Government had successfully revised its legislation and made amendments in the no-smoking laws to include a ban on smoking in indoor public settings. He advised that this will contribute significantly to curbing tobacco use in Albania. The latest data of the Global Youth Tobacco Survey show cigarette smoking among 13–15-year-old students in Albania has been reduced by almost half from 2009 to 2015, decreasing from 11.5% to 6%. Among boys, the smoking rate has decreased from 17.6 % to 8.3% and for girls, from 6.3% to 3.6%. Recognizing the need for informing the public and raising awareness regarding the dangers of tobacco, a campaign was launched in September 2014 under the slogan "No Tobacco Albania". This was a civil-society initiative supported by the Ministry of Health.
State Health Inspectorate established
An important step was the establishment of a State Health Inspectorate in 2014 responsible for monitoring and enforcing the law prohibiting smoking in public places. The Inspectorate has a 24-hour hotline to report violations. Calls are registered and an inspector in the field is sent to the location of the suspected violation. The first year, the Inspectorate received 100 calls a day; in 2015, there were only 10 calls per day. Despite the good results attained so far by the Inspectorate, including 32 603 inspections carried out since its establishment and 505 administrative measures taken, much work remains to be done to change smoking behaviour, strengthen the inspection structures, expand the no-smoking campaign, strengthen law enforcement to ban the sale of tobacco to people under 18, reduce and prevent the illicit trade in tobacco products, and control and regulate the sale and use of electronic cigarettes.
The meeting covered ratification of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, the current situation in tobacco control in the SEE countries, effective tobacco control policies and their enforcement with an emphasis on smoke-free public places and how implementation of the WHO FCTC can be scaled up in the SEE countries. The meeting in Tirana is the start of closer cooperation among the 11 participating countries in the WHO European Region in implementing the WHO FCTC. Organizing activities at this level, with the commitment of countries, will support alignment of priorities and joint initiatives to strengthen implementation of the WHO FCTC.