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Countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region are making progress on life-saving tobacco control laws despite challenges including COVID-19. More than 60 government officials from 13 countries in the region gathered for a high-level five-day virtual workshop, which gave them an opportunity to share their experiences implementing tobacco control laws, hear from neighbouring countries, and learn about best practices.
The Knowledge Hub for Legal Challenges, hosted by the McCabe Centre for Law & Cancer, collaborated with the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region Office and the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat to stage the workshop, which ran from 30 November to 8 December 2021, focusing on legal and regulatory measures for tobacco control.
Director of the McCabe Centre, Hayley Jones, was thrilled to see so many government officials come together to tackle such an important societal issue. Addressing the participants, she said, “we are here to build knowledge, capacity, expertise and networks. Together, we can make a difference and reduce deaths and disease related to smoking.”
Sharing knowledge to support progress
WHO’s recently released report on the global tobacco control epidemic demonstrated how a number of countries in the region have made significant progress in developing solid tobacco control laws to protect their populations from the dangers of tobacco use. However, the report also highlighted that many countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region are still challenged by gaps in their tobacco control legislation. WHO estimates that full implementation of the WHO FCTC and the MPOWER measures to reduce tobacco use in the region would lead to a reduction in tobacco use ranging from 20% to 40% in five years.
Seeking to address these gaps, the workshop included presentations on global governance, key provisions in the WHO FCTC and the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, international trade and investment law and multisectoral coordination. The workshop aimed to assist countries in the region to take the necessary next steps in implementing and enforcing tobacco control laws.
The discussion was enriched by presentations from the Knowledge Hub for Waterpipe Tobacco Smoking, the Knowledge Hub on Article 5.3 and colleagues from WHO and the WHO FCTC Convention Secretariat.
During the interactive workshop, participants highlighted challenges with industry interference and multisectoral coordination, dealing with significant youth smoking rates, and how to regulate new tobacco products.
Regional successes were also shared, including Saudi Arabia becoming the first country in the region to implement tobacco plain packaging in 2019. Discussions emphasised the importance of being aware of the experiences of other countries such as Australia, with plain packaging prior to implementing measures locally and to prepare for recycled arguments against plain packaging to be made by the tobacco industry.
McCabe Centre alumni contributed to the workshop and gave presentations on regional case studies on the implementation of the WHO FCTC and on regional trade and investment frameworks.
The workshop concluded with tips on where countries can find support to implement tobacco control laws, including through the McCabe Centre’s training and capacity building programs, and the resources available on the designated FCTC Knowledge Hub websites.