World No Tobacco Day in Serbia
Serbian public health experts and medical practitioners met on 31 May at a roundtable organized at the Belgrade University Rectorate to mark World No Tobacco Day (WNTD). High-level speakers included the Ministry of Health State Secretary, the Director of the Institute of Public Health (IPH) of Serbia, the Head of the Tobacco Control Office at IPH Serbia, and WHO Representative, Dr Zsofia Pusztai.
In addressing the audience, Dr Pusztai, highlighted the links between tobacco control and sustainable development, pointing to the threat that tobacco poses to development of nations worldwide and urging strengthening of the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). She conveyed the key WHO messages and underlined a number of efficient tobacco control policies, including making indoor public places and workplaces smoke-free, raising excise taxes, banning marketing and advertising of tobacco and promoting plain packaging of tobacco products.
Projections for Serbia, developed through the SimSmoke tobacco control model, were presented, indicating that by adopting a set of tobacco control policies consistent with the WHO FCTC, smoking prevalence in Serbia could be reduced by 29% within 5 years, 37% within 15 years and 44% within 40 years. Nearly 535 000 premature deaths could be averted over 40 years.
In particular, increasing excise tax on cigarettes from its current level of 61% to 75% would have the greatest impact in Serbia. It would reduce smoking prevalence by 16% and prevent much youth smoking.
The smoking prevalence among adults in Serbia in 2013 was 34.7% (37.9% among males and 31.6% among females), compared to an average of 26% in European Union Member States. Based on the current level of adult smoking, premature deaths attributable to smoking are projected to be as high as 1.2 million of the 2.5 million smokers alive today, and may increase in the absence of stronger tobacco control policies.
Dr Pusztai used the opportunity to announce the WHO Director General’s decision to extend the WNTD Award to Dr Srmena Krstev, President of the Serbian Tobacco Control Committee for her accomplishments, which is also a reflection of Serbia’s commitment to improved tobacco control.
Participants of the roundtable included health practitioners, representatives of institutes of public health, the Clinical Center of Serbia, the Institute for Oncology and Radiology, the Belgrade University Faculty of Pharmacy, the Cardiology Society and the Serbian medical and dental associations.
On 6 June, WHO organized the official award ceremony for Dr Krstev at UN House in Belgrade. The WNTD Award was presented jointly by the WHO Representative, the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Ms Karla Robin Hershey, and the State Secretary of the Serbian Ministry of Health, Dr Meho Mahmutovic, in the presence of relevant national ministries, United Nations agencies and the diplomatic community.
It was highlighted at the ceremony that key elements of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also include implementing the WHO FCTC, and by 2030 reducing by one third premature death from noncommunicable diseases, including heart and lung diseases, cancer, and diabetes, for which tobacco use is a key risk factor.
Ms Hershey remarked that under the 5-year FCTC 2030 project, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was collaborating with the WHO FCTC Secretariat to support efforts to strengthen Convention implementation by supporting government sectors to better understand and act on the links between tobacco control and multiple SDGs.
Dr Pusztai gave tribute to the awardee for her outstanding dedication since 2003 in all tobacco control-related activities, both strategic and operational, and acknowledged her persistence despite numerous obstacles and challenges. Dr Krstev has set a distinctive example for health professionals and others involved in tobacco control through her exceptional leadership and ability to cooperate with both national and international partners.