Around the world, more than 100 million people have died prematurely because the world took so long to act upon evidence about the dangers of tobacco. And even then, the action has been pretty patchy, with the result that smoking still kills more than five million people each year.
If this is the only lesson from tobacco control for climate policy – that it takes decades to get action, especially in the face of well-resourced and resistant industries – then it’s a pretty grim one.
Some more comparisons between these two public health challenges are drawn in an article just published in The Lancet (freely available but you have to register at the site) by health researchers from Sweden, New Zealand and Germany.
Other dots that they’ve joined include:
• As well as causing huge damage to population health, tobacco and climate change both cause substantial adverse social, economic, equity, and gender effects.
• Both have long lead times between cause and effect, and both require long-term policies and monitoring systems.
• The number of countries implementing the policies effectively is far too low.
• Negative effects are increasing over time and will have greatest effects in low-income countries and poor populations.
• Both issues are inﬂuenced by strong vested interests; moreover, delaying tactics and the use of “junk science” by opponents of change have impeded effective policies.
• Climate change can be compared to passive smoking because those who generate the damage are not the same people as those who suffer (in the case of tobacco) or the same country (in the case of climate change).
• As with tobacco use, climate change requires local action informed by local circumstances. But in both cases, solutions ultimately depend on globally coordinated policies.
• Political will and strong leadership are required for both areas.
The authors conclude that: “The main lesson from tobacco for the Copenhagen conference is that delay in agreeing on international policy and poor implementation will cost countless lives.”
All timely and relevant stuff, but perhaps the article could have been even more useful if it went into some of the specific strategies that have been effective in tobacco control that could be adapted for or help inform climate advocacy and policy.
I’m thinking of things like media advocacy, changing social norms, the use of taxes, engaging key professional groups and community leaders, evidence about achieving behavioural change, etc etc.