Media can play significant role in curbing tobacco menace
Rebecca Perl, a public health campaigner, tells
Rebecca Perl is a reputed public health advocate, writer and science and public health journalist. She worked for seven years with National Public Radio in Washington DC, won popular Peabody Award for investigative report. She also worked for the Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution and her work featured on HBO and on "This American Life." She holds Masters in Journalism from Columbia University and taught writing and reporting at Columbia University and New York University.
Currently she works at Vital Strategies (former World Lung Foundation) as Director for Partnerships and Initiatives, Policy, Advocacy and Communication in New York and directed work in Europe and Africa. Recently she attended high-level strategic meetings for tobacco control in Bangladesh. During her visit, the Daily Observer talked with Rebecca.
The Daily Observer: How do you measure the role of communications on tobacco control?
Rebecca: Communications and public education are very important to drive down the smoking and tobacco use. For instance mass media campaigns can do many things. It can encourage quitting and, over time, can change social norms of smoking. Smoking kills smokers, causes harm to the people, children around, and infants in the wombs. Communications also teach people about the harm of smoking and encourage policy makers to adopt policies to control tobacco epidemic. Because, tobacco is most common risk-factor for non communicable diseases including cancer, lung diseases, heart diseases and diabetes. Globally, 63 percent people die every year due to NCDs. So mass media campaign can create public pressure to ensure effective implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and the national tobacco control law.
The Daily Observer: Do you think that Article 12 of the FCTC (Education, Communications, Training and Public awareness) can help tobacco control efforts?
Rebecca: Yes, It is significantly important to educate people about the harm of tobacco. Enforcement of FCTC is important as it is most comprehensive tools for tobacco control, including Article 12. Tobacco is a slow motion disaster. I strongly believe that if people know the harm of it, many of them will not smoke. One in to 2 people are gonna die due to smoking. If they smoke, there is 50 percent chance that they will fall prey to critical diseases like cancer. We would like to see people stop smoking so that they would not be a burden of the society and family.
The Daily Observer: How Vital Strategies promote effective implementation of FCTC at global level?
Rebecca: Vital Strategies prepared a library of effective mass media campaigns including anti-tobacco advertisements that has been pretested across ten countries including Bangladesh. These will encourage people to quit smoking and what we are doing since 2011 is partnership with government and we have got good result. These ads also encourage people not to smoke in-front of women and children.
The Daily Observer: How can the implementation of FCTC help achieve Sustainable Development Goals?
Rebecca: Dealing the NCDs is important for development of the country where tobacco is a leading cause. In order to achieve SDGs; we have to deal with tobacco control. This is part of WHO FCTC, among other intervention to curb smoking and NCDs; so the country has a chance to move forward to SDGs.
The Daily Observer: What are the key challenges in global tobacco control?
Rebecca: The biggest challenge is tobacco industries, they care about profit. They promote the deadly tobacco products to attract new customers to replace the old customers who died due to tobacco related diseases. They exploit people saying that smoking makes a person smart, popular, glamourous, but the truth is that it kills. We would like to see that tobacco industries do not get any advertisement space and the government must protect people from the tobacco industries.
The Daily Observer: How to prevent tobacco industries interference in accordance with FCTC Article 5.3?
Rebecca: FCTC Article 5.3 gives clear guidelines that tobacco industries should not have any involvement in policy making. And we do not want tobacco industries' advertisement and sponsorships. And if Industries break the law and they must face penalty. This is a solvable problems we just need political will.
The Daily Observer: What is the progress of Vital Strategies work in Bangladesh?
Rebecca: We have conducted many campaigns and found that it encourages people to quit smoking. They suggest people to take preparations to quit smoking and helps on implementation of Smoke Free Laws to protect people from second-hand smoke.
The Daily Observer: What is the objective of your recent visit in Bangladesh?
Rebecca: The purpose is to attend high-level meetings with government officials, civil societies and to encourage Bangladesh government to adopt surcharge policy for tobacco control and to use some of the money for mass media campaign. Because we cannot continue support here for long, so you have to find out ways to ensure sustainability to support your own campaign.
The Daily Observer: As the prime minister has expressed her wish to make country tobacco- free by 2040. So what are your suggestions to achieve this goal?
Rebecca: This is a great goal and thanks to honorable prime minister. I think, Bangladesh needs several interventions, including raising tobacco price and tax, strictly control the tobacco industries and run mass media campaign on health risks of tobacco. Also important is effective implementation of law including ban on advertisements, promotion and sponsorships and graphic health warnings. We would also highly recommend for adopting policy to use one percent health development surcharge for tobacco control and NCDs prevention.