Strengthening tobacco control in Slovenia to save lives

WHO/Marijan Ivanusa

Smoking is widespread in Slovenia, where almost one quarter (24%) of the adult population smokes. Moreover, many smokers start at a young age, with up to 18% of Slovenian teenagers reporting that they first began smoking at age 13 or younger. The high rates of smoking have serious health consequences for Slovenia’s citizens – it is projected that roughly half of the 427 000 current smokers will die prematurely from causes attributable to tobacco.

The Slovenian Parliament endorsed a tobacco control law in 2017, which led to significant improvement in tobacco control in the country. The advanced measures included in the law were the result of strong leadership and collaboration among many stakeholders, including civil society and the media.

However, ongoing efforts by the tobacco industry to hamper progress on tobacco control in Slovenia underscore the need to protect and enforce the existing law, as well as strengthen it further. Such action could help bring down the prevalence of smoking, prevent additional premature deaths due to smoking, and protect children and youth from the tobacco industry.

Plain packaging as a key tobacco control measure

Plain packaging, one of the key measures to prevent tobacco-related deaths, has yet to be implemented in Slovenia.

The introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products has been shown to:

  • reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products;
  • eliminate the effect of tobacco packaging as a form of advertising and promotion;
  • eliminate package design techniques that may suggest that some products are less harmful than others; and
  • increase the noticeability and effectiveness of health warnings.

Of particular importance in Slovenia, plain packaging is also known to help discourage children and young people from starting smoking. While plain packaging has not yet been widely adopted, a number of countries in the WHO European Region – including Belgium, France, Georgia, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Turkey and the United Kingdom – already have plain packs in their market or have passed laws on plain packaging that will soon be implemented.

Overcoming industry interference to adopt stronger policies

Countries of the Region have agreed to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which provides clear guidance for a wide range of tobacco control measures. These include plain packaging, but also other proven effective measures such as tobacco taxation.

While many such measures are met with stiff resistance from the tobacco industry, countries and WHO can work closely to resist such interference and move forward with implementing tobacco control policies that have the potential to save lives.

For example, data show that with a stronger set of policies consistent with the WHO FCTC, Slovenia could reduce smoking prevalence by 27% within 5 years, by 34% within 15 years and by 41% within 40 years. Almost 88 000 deaths could be averted in the long term.

“While we commend Slovenia’s leadership on tobacco control to this point, WHO is committed to working closely with the Slovenian authorities and stakeholders to ensure further implementation of all tobacco control activities as outlined in the WHO FCTC,” said Dr Bente Mikkelsen, Director of the Division of Noncommunicable Diseases and Promoting Health through the Life-Course at WHO/Europe.

“We will continue providing technical assistance and support to help Slovenia protect the health and well-being of its population. Together we can resist the unprecedented interference of the tobacco industry,” Dr Mikkelsen concluded.

Tobacco-related illness is one of the biggest public health threats facing the world, and controlling tobacco use is a key part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 2030 Agenda includes a target of reducing premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases (including heart and lung diseases, cancer and diabetes) by one third by 2030, alongside targets to strengthen national implementation of the WHO FCTC.