Clear the air of tobacco smoke, WHO says

News release

This press release is embargoed until 09:00 GMT, Wednesday, 09 December 2009

MANILA, 9 December 2009—The World Health Organization (WHO) today called for more decisive action against second-hand smoke as it revealed that more than 94% of people globally continue to be exposed to the dangers of tobacco smoke.

Despite progress in some areas, tobacco use still kills more than 5 million people a year, WHO said. If current trends continue, it could kill more than 8 million people each year by 2030. Of those deaths, 80% will be in low- and middle-income countries.

By the end of the century, 1 billion could die from tobacco-related causes, the health agency said in the "WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2009", which was launched today in Istanbul, Turkey. The report is the second in a series about the extent of the global tobacco epidemic and measures to stop it.

The theme of the report, "Smoke-free environments", is designed to emphasize the harmful effects of second-hand smoke, which causes about 600 000 premature deaths a year globally, as well as a host of tobacco-related diseases and economic losses in the tens of billions of dollars.

There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke, the report said. That's why firm action by governments is needed.

"Governments must recognize that there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry's interests and those of public health,” said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. “Governments will need to push harder with more concrete measures if the battle against tobacco use is to be won."

WHO said the tobacco industry continues to seek and exploit new targets, particularly women, young people and people in low- and middle-income countries.

WHO stressed that securing smoke-free environments is critical to achieving irreversible progress in tobacco control. Countries that have been successful with regulations, as well as with changing social norms about smoking in public, are likely to achieve significant drops in prevalence rates of tobacco use.

For the WHO Western Pacific Region, enforcing 100% smoke-free indoor settings for restaurants, bars and pubs seems to be the biggest challenge. However, there are three large cities in the Region that have made outstanding progress in smoke-free legislation and implementation: Sydney and Melbourne in Australia and Hong Kong (China).

In the Philippines, smaller cities, such as Makati and Davao City, have been able to enforce 100% indoor smoke-free regulations in restaurants and public places. Viet Nam has at least seven settings that are smoke free but has yet to legislate a ban on smoking in restaurants, pubs and bars. China, which has over 350 million smokers, has had difficulty passing local and national regulations for 100% smoke-free public places, but has recently passed 100% smoke-free regulations for all health facilities which will be fully implemented by 2011.

Of WHO's six regions, the Western Pacific has the greatest number of smokers, the highest rates of male smoking prevalence, and the fastest increase in tobacco uptake by women and young people. One in three cigarettes consumed globally is smoked in the Western Pacific, and it is estimated that two people in the Region die every minute from a tobacco-related disease.

In both developed and developing countries in the Western Pacific Region, tobacco consumption causes or aggravates several chronic diseases—cancer, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, peripheral vascular disease, osteoporosis, hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, and diabetes.

The report devotes particular attention to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which among other initiatives, calls on governments to enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and to raise taxes on tobacco products. The Convention took effect in 2005 and has been ratified by nearly 170 countries.

For more information, please contact: Dr Susan Mercado, WHO Regional Adviser on Tobacco Free Initiative, at +63 2 528 9894 or e-mail: mercados@wpro.who.int

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