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Dr. Prabhat Jha receives WHO World No Tobacco Day Award

Toronto, June 3, 2014

By Leslie Shepherd

Dr. Prabhat  Jha
Dr. Prabhat Jha

Dr. Prabhat Jha, head of the Centre for Global Health Research at St. Michael's Hospital, has received the World Health Organization’s World No Tobacco Day award for 2014.

Every year, WHO recognizes individuals or organizations in each of the six WHO regions for their accomplishments in the area of tobacco control. Dr. Jha’s award was for the region of the Americas in recognition of his pioneering economic and epidemiological research worldwide. World No Tobacco Day was May 31. Every year on that date, WHO highlights the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocates for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption. Tobacco kills nearly 6 million people each year.

This year, WHO called on countries around the world to raise tobacco taxes. Research has shown that higher tobacco taxation is the single most effective intervention to raise smoking cessation rates and deter future smokers.

Dr. Jha, who is also a professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, is one of the world’s leading researchers in tobacco control.

Dr. Jha was a senior health specialist at the World Bank and lead author of the landmark report, Curbing the Epidemic: Governments and the Economics of Tobacco Control in 1999. The report said a price increase of 10 percent would reduce the number of smokers by 42 million worldwide and save 10 million lives.The report become bank policy and formed the technical basis for to the first global treaty on tobacco, signed by more than 170 countries.

The report also influenced Bill Gates, who established a $125 million initiative at his foundation to address the issue of tobacco economics. Dr. Jha describes that move as the tipping point in the tobacco control debate. Soon after, Gates joined forces with then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who put $375 million of his own money into a campaign against smoking in the developing world, creating a $500-million global anti-smoking effort.

Dr. Jha’s direct briefing in 2008 led the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago to raise tobacco taxes within two weeks, a move expected to avoid at least 10,000 deaths in that small country.

He has provided statistical analysis for the government of Mexico when it raised tobacco taxes in 2009. He has briefed the governments of Colombia, Mauritius and South Africa among others. Funded by the Gates foundation, he assisted both India and the Philippines in advancing tobacco control. The Indian government proposed raising the excise tax on tobacco by 18 per cent in its budget in February. Philippines President Benigno Aquino, a former smoker, signed a new law on Jan. 1 that effectively doubled the price of a package of cigarettes.

Quantification of the hazards of smoking is still urgently needed in low- and middle-income countries, where more than 80 per cent of the world’s 1.3 billion smokers live and where the main increase in smoking is still under way. Dr. Jha leads the Million Death Study in India, which seeks to quantify the hazards of tobacco and other risk factors in more than 2 million homes over a 14-year period from 1997 to 2014. This study has already demonstrated that smoking in India kills about 1 million adults a year, despite a much older age of onset and fewer cigarettes smoked than in the West. This evidence is now cited by the government of India. The Million Death Study has now expanded to other parts of Asia and to Africa.

Moreover, Dr. Jha’s studies have found that smoking is a significant cause of tuberculosis deaths and may well contribute to increased transmission. This is relevant to Africa and Asia, where tuberculosis remains common. He has also demonstrated that smoking accounts for more than half of the inequalities between rich and poor adult males, and that reductions in smoking deaths narrow such inequalities, as has occurred in Canada.

Another landmark study by Dr. Jha, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013, found that smokers in the United States who quit when they are young adults can live almost as long as people who never smoked,

Canada is the best example that raising tobacco taxes works, Dr. Jha says. Between 1999 and 2008, he notes, more than 1.3 million Canadians quit smoking largely because Ottawa and most provinces kept tobacco prices high.

"If the world did what Canada has done on smoking, you could avoid, by our estimates, at least 100 million premature deaths worldwide in the next few decades."

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.