Dhaka Conference on Tobacco or Health 2020 (DCTH 2020) is taking place at an important juncture in the response to health and socio-economic consequences of tobacco use in Bangladesh. Over the past two decades, advances in tobacco control policies and legal framework have given us the tools to effectively reduce tobacco use and influence of tobacco industry in even the most resource constrained settings.

Beginning with a global call to action the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) entered into force on 27 February 2005 to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke and reinforced by advocacy in support of tobacco control over the past fifteen years, there has been tremendous progress in reducing tobacco use and tobacco related illness, particularly in Bangladesh.

The investments for tobacco control have shown positive results, despite persistent influence and interferences of tobacco industry. Yet, with the goal of ending tobacco use by 2040 as declared by Sheikh Hasina, the Honorable Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, and the deadline for achieving the SDGs following just next ten years later, there is a need for urgency and accountability and no room for complacency.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a United Nations initiative, formally adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 in a resolution entitled Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They include 17 goals and 169 targets to be achieved over the next 15 years, with the aim to “end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda”. Reducing tobacco use plays a major role in global efforts to achieve the SDG target to reduce premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) by one third by 2030. Many of the 17 Goals have a direct or indirect relation to tobacco control.

The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that world leaders adopted in September 2015 at the United Nations General Assembly. In fact, it is recognised as one of the “means of implementation” to reach the overall health goal (SDG 3) and a target on non-communicable diseases (NCDs). This is a huge achievement. But nothing will happen automatically just because implementation of the FCTC is included in the SDGs. This decision certainly gives the FCTC a higher profile, but there are 169 commitments in the SDGs and governments will have to choose the ones that they will focus on. Now it will be up to us to ensure that governments is enforcing effective measures to end tobacco use by 2040 and allocating resources especially from Bangladesh Health Development Surcharge Fund for implementing tobacco control programs. In-country advocates need to play a huge role in this regards.

Despite growing momentum over the past few years, significant challenges remain. It is now absolutely clear that weaknesses in enforcing existing laws and interferences of tobacco industries, are major obstacles to control tobacco use. DCTH 2020 will underscore that enforcement of tobacco control laws, research and monitoring related to tobacco as a prerequisite to a successful response to tobacco control. It is evident in many ways that scaling up of tobacco control programs has important contributions on broader health and development goals. DCTH 2020 will highlight many opportunities for synergy and for powerful alliances between these areas of interventions and movements.

DCTH 2020 will also provide a multidisciplinary forum for networking and sharing of information related to new research and evidence-based programs and policies. It is a chance for the many stakeholders involved in tobacco control to take stock of where the tobacco epidemic is rooted, how to share recent scientific developments and lessons learnt, and collectively chart a course forward. In particular, DCTH 2010 will facilitate stronger linkages between innovative interventions to tobacco control, science, law and community.

Today’s tobacco users will make up the majority of future tobacco-related deaths, which will disproportionately affect low- and middle-income countries like Bangladesh. Providing access to, and encouraging the use of, effective cessation interventions greatly increases the likelihood of successfully quitting tobacco. The importance of tobacco control and cessation for global health are reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals, which call for strengthened implementation of the WHO FCTC. The MPOWER measures can assist governments by providing key tools to combat the global tobacco epidemic. Only if we help people quit tobacco now will we be able to reach our global targets to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use and avert years of debilitating illness and millions of preventable deaths.

The conference’s host city of Dhaka, Bangladesh offers a unique bridge to South Asia, one of the most affected regions of tobacco epidemic in the world. An important focus of the conference will therefore be a discussion of how evidence-based policies and programmes can be expanded and the influence of policy on tobacco control.