UN weighs in on ‘Tobacco epidemic
One billion could die in 21st century
NEW YORK — The World Health Organization warned in a new report Thursday that the “tobacco epidemic” is growing and could claim 1 billion lives by the end of the century unless governments dramatically step up efforts to curb smoking.
In its first comprehensive report on tobacco use in 179 countries, the U.N.’s health agency said governments around the world collect more than $200 billion in tobacco taxes every year but spend less than one-fifth of 1 percent of that revenue on tobacco control, it said.
“We hold in our hands the solution to the global tobacco epidemic that threatens the lives of 1 billion men, women and children during this century,” WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said in an introduction to the report.
The WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2008 calls on all countries to dramatically increase efforts to prevent young people from beginning to smoke, help smokers quit and protect nonsmokers from exposure to second hand smoke.
It urges governments to adopt six “tobacco control policies” — raise taxes and prices of tobacco; ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; protect people from second hand smoke; warn people about the dangers of tobacco; help those who want to quit smoking; and monitor tobacco use to understand and reverse the epidemic.
Chan announced the report Thursday at a news conference with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, helped fund it with a $2 million grant. The report examines the tobacco policies of 179 countries for the first time, Bloomberg said.
According to the report, nearly two-thirds of the world’s smokers live in 10 countries: China, which accounts for nearly 30 percent, India with about 10 percent, Indonesia, Russia, the United States, Japan, Brazil, Bangladesh, Germany and Turkey.
It forecast that more than 80 percent of tobacco-related deaths will be in low- and middle-income countries by 2030.
Dr. Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative, said WHO estimates 5.4 million smoking-related deaths a year, rising to more than 8 million a year by 2030 if nothing is done. That adds up to 175 million between 2005 and 2030. Beyond that, he said, deaths will continue to rise and statistical projections put the death toll at near 1 billion by the end of the century.
Tobacco use is growing fastest in low-income countries, the report said, “due to steady population growth coupled with tobacco industry targeting, ensuring that millions of people become fatally addicted each year.”
It warned that “the shift of the tobacco epidemic to the developing world will lead to unprecedented levels of disease and early death in countries where population growth and the potential for increased tobacco use are highest and where health care services are least available.”