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WHO Issues Report On Global Tobacco Use

“Tobacco use kills at least 5 million people every year, a figure that could rise if countries don’t take stronger measures to combat smoking, the World Health Organization said Wednesday,” during the release its Global Tobacco Epidemic report, the Associated Press reports (Cheng, 12/9).

The report found 5.4 percent of the world’s population was covered by comprehensive smoke-free laws in 2008, up from 3.1 percent in 2007, according to a WHO press release. “Although this represents progress, the fact that more than 94% of people remain unprotected by comprehensive smoke-free laws shows that much more work needs to be done,” said Ala Alwan, WHO assistant director-general for noncommunicable diseases and mental health. “Urgent action is needed to protect people from the death and illness caused by exposure to tobacco smoke.” According to the WHO release, second-hand smoke accounts for 600,000 premature deaths each year (12/9).

The WHO report indicated that “[m]ore than 80 percent of those premature deaths would occur in low- and middle-income countries – in other words, precisely where it is hardest to deflect and bear such tremendous losses,” Reuters reports. “Over the past four decades, smoking rates have fallen in rich places such as the United States, Japan and western Europe, but they are rising in much of the developing world. The WHO said seven countries – Colombia, Djibouti, Guatemala, Mauritius, Panama, Turkey and Zambia – brought in comprehensive smoke-free laws in 2008, bringing the total to 17,” according to the news service.

The report also found “tobacco control remains severely underfunded, with 173 times as many dollars collected worldwide in tobacco taxes each year than are spent trying to get people to stop smoking,” Reuters writes (Kelland, 12/9).

“Most of WHO’s anti-tobacco efforts are centered on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an international treaty ratified by nearly 170 countries in 2003,” the AP writes, adding, “The convention theoretically obliges countries to take action to reduce tobacco use, though it is unclear if they can be punished for not taking adequate measures, since they can simply withdraw from the treaty.” The article includes comments by Patrick Basham, of the Democracy Institute, who questions the effectiveness of the WHO strategy (12/9).

Reuters also summarizes the findings of the WHO report in a factbox (12/9).