National conference: "Through the strengthening of fiscal and health policies to reduced deaths, prevention of smoking among young people and increased budget revenues in North Macedonia" held in Skopje

Within the project "Accelerating Progress on Effective Tobacco Tax Policies in Low- and Middle-Income Countries", the research team of Analytica think tank - North Macedonia, organized a national conference held on December 6, 2023, at the Hilton Hotel in Skopje, titled "Through the strengthening of fiscal and health policies to reduced deaths, prevention of smoking among young people and increased budget revenues in North Macedonia".

The conference brought together key stakeholders, including Deputy Minister of Health, Maja Manoleva who had an opening speech, and representatives from the Ministry of Finance, Customs Office, World Bank, WHO, and UNDP. The participation of various institutions, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Cabinet of the Vice Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, Institute of Public Health, Centre for Public Health, Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, Secretariat for European Affairs, General Secretariat of the Government, IMF office in Skopje, and representatives of the CSOs sector, enriched the discussions.

In the Introductory Panel Maja Manoleva, Deputy Minister of Health held an opening speech. On the next panel we presented the findings of our reports, presentation of results by Tamara Mijović Spasova, M.Sc, Bojana Mijović Hristovska, M.Sc, Kristijan Kozeski. The panel focused on presenting the key findings of our two reports, providing a comprehensive overview of the study's results.

The next panel was with the stakeholders and was moderator by Borce Trenovski. Panelists were Dr. Alexandra Naqeva Ruzhin, Special Advisor to the Minister, Ministry of Finance, Anastas Mazenkovski, Assistant Director of the ICT Department, Customs Administration, Prof. Elena Kjosevska, Institute of Public Health, Joanna Majoska, Economist, World Bank, Sanja Bojanic, UNDP Skopje. This panel delved into the critical intersection of tobacco taxation policies and public health. Panelists shared insights on the implications of these policies, emphasizing the importance of collaborative efforts.

The whole event facilitated a very constructive and collaborative dialogue among representatives of official institutions. The participants expressed a high level of interest in the study results, fostering an environment conducive to further improvements on the discussed topics, especially concerning youth initiation. All participating institutions expressed a commitment to collaborate further on the identified issues, emphasizing the importance of collective efforts in addressing youth smoking initiation and enhancing public health.

The conference received extensive media coverage, with broadcasts on all six national TV channels, media portals, and journalist coverage. We are pleased to share links to the national news broadcasts for your reference. Following the event, Tamara and Kristijan were invited on an interview, to speak on national television, TV 24, during the evening news, providing additional visibility to the study findings.

In addition, at the end we all agreed to prepare a brief report summarizing the conclusions and recommendations that emerged from our discussions. This report, approximately 1-2 pages, will serve as a valuable resource for stakeholders, providing insights into the key findings of our studies and outlining actionable steps for the future of tobacco control in our country. The proposed report should encapsulate recommendations across various domains, including tax policy, strategy, legal changes, the establishment of a national coordinating body, a specialized program for smoking cessation, enhanced education strategies, and the reinforcement of inspection forces. Specifically, we discussed the importance of adopting the Protocol for the elimination of illegal trade in tobacco products by the end of December 2023. We will share the report with all relevant ministries and international institutions actively supporting tobacco control policies, aligning with each entity's responsibilities. This strategic dissemination will help catalyze collaborative efforts in 2024 and provide a comprehensive overview of our progress during the accession negotiations for entry into the European Union.

We believe that the success of this conference sets a positive tone for future initiatives in the realm of tobacco control and public health.