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As people around the globe unite to mark World Cancer Day on 4 February, it is a timely moment to refresh our collective commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals. Just over a year ago members of the United Nations committed, for the first time, to reducing non-communicable diseases [NCDs] – cancer, cardiovascular disease, strokes, diabetes and chronic lung disease.

The target, to reduce NCD mortality rates by one third by 2030, recognises the significant challenge these diseases pose to sustainable development worldwide.

In order to achieve this ambitious goal, countries must redouble their efforts on tobacco control. Why? Because tobacco use is one of the biggest preventable risk factors for NCDs. And it is the single biggest cause of cancer, increasing the risk of at least 14 types: lung, larynx, oesophagus, mouth, bladder, pancreas, kidney, liver, stomach, bowel, cervix, ovary, nose and sinuses, as well as some types of leukaemia.

Smoking accounts for more than 20 percent of all cancer deaths worldwide. In 2010 this was 1.4 million. And because more than 80 percent of smokers live in low- and middle-income countries, they bear a disproportionate burden of the world’s tobacco-related disease and premature death.

These statistics are shocking, especially when we consider that tobacco use was proven to cause cancer almost 70 years ago. But we do have high-impact, cost-effective tools to reduce tobacco consumption, and prevent the devastating illnesses it causes. The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control [WHO FCTC] gives governments a clear and well-established set of policies that are proven to reduce smoking rates and prevalence of other forms of tobacco consumption. For this reason the Sustainable Development Goals specify that in order to achieve the NCD-reduction target, countries must ‘strengthen implementation’ of the WHO FCTC.

On World Cancer Day, we urge countries to do just this. If governments renew their political commitment to introducing and strengthening all WHO FCTC policies, and if civil society supports these efforts, we will be several significant steps along the road to achieving the 2030 NCDs goal – saving many millions of lives from cancer.

José Luis Castro
Executive Director – The Union

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