WHO finds anti-smoking efforts fall far short
By Bill Berkrot
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Global efforts to avoid tens of millions of preventable deaths by reducing tobacco use have been slow to take hold, and no country has fully adopted the World Health Organization's recommendations, WHO said on Thursday.
Unless urgent action is taken, the health agency of the United Nations estimates tobacco could kill one billion people this century.
"As a global community we cannot allow this to happen," Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, said at a news conference to launch the organization's first comprehensive analysis of global tobacco use and control efforts.
Chan said the tobacco industry describes WHO as its No. 1 enemy.
"Today we intend to enhance that reputation," she said in unveiling the "WHO Report of the Global Tobacco Epidemic" that for the first time analyzed tobacco policies of 179 countries.
The analysis found that only 5 percent of the world's population live in countries that protect their people through any of the smoking reduction measures WHO has outlined.
It also found that 40 percent of countries still allow smoking in hospitals and schools.
"While efforts to combat tobacco are gaining momentum, virtually every country needs to do more," Chan said.
Chan was joined by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose Bloomberg Philanthropies funds anti-smoking efforts and helped fund the report.
"As long as anyone is smoking, we have a job to do," said Bloomberg, who through his philanthropies has committed $125 million over two years to programs to help people stop smoking.
"The purpose of this report is to empower countries to take action," Bloomberg said.
WHO outlined six anti-tobacco strategies through its "MPOWER" program that Chan said "when combined as a package, offer us the best chance of reversing this growing epidemic."
The six strategies are to monitor tobacco use and prevention policies; protect people from tobacco smoke; offer help to quit tobacco use; warn about the dangers of tobacco; enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and raise taxes on tobacco.
WHO said governments around the world collect 500 times more money in tobacco taxes each year than they spend on anti-tobacco efforts. It said significantly raising tobacco taxes would not only provide sustainable funding to carry out the anti-tobacco recommendations, but higher cigarette prices have been shown to cut smoking rates.
The report found particularly troubling the smoking epidemic's shift to the developing world because of what it said was a global tobacco industry strategy to target young people and adults in those countries. The targeting of young women in particular was highlighted as one of the "most ominous potential developments of the epidemic's growth."
As a result, WHO said some 80 percent of the more than eight million annual tobacco-related deaths projected by 2030 are expected to occur in the developing world.
The analysis found that nearly two thirds of the world's smokers live in 10 countries with China and India by far the worst offenders, although industrialized nations such as the United States and Germany also were in the top 10.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)