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WHO warning over tobacco industry

5th June 2012

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on governments around the world to be wary of "increasingly aggressive attacks" by the tobacco industry, which is still trying to undermine policies that protect people from damaging their health through tobacco use.

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In a news release issued on World No Tobacco Day, WHO said that nearly six million people die every year from tobacco-related illnesses, which are among the leading preventable causes of illness and death around the world.

According to WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan, multinational tobacco companies have been behind a number of legal actions against governments that have been at the forefront of the war against tobacco.

Branding such actions "shameless", Chan warned the industry was now taking the fight to courtrooms. "We must now stand together with these governments that have had the courage to do the right thing to protect their citizens," Chan said in a statement on the WHO's website.

As more countries are moving to create enclosed public and work spaces that are completely smoke free, and to promote the message about the harm done by smoking with large, graphic warnings and new rules on packaging, the tobacco industry has been hard at work to undermine the 2003 WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

As governments around the world continue to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, tobacco companies are taking them to court.

According to the WHO, the governments of Australia, Norway and Uruguay are currently fighting tobacco industry lawsuits in their national courts.

The industry has employed a number of key strategies to undermine the treaty, including manoeuvres that hijack the political and legislative process, it said.

The tobacco industry has a tendency to exaggerate its own economic importance, and is adept at manipulating public opinion to give the appearance of respectability.

Much of its support is fabricated through the use of lobby groups. Tobacco companies also launch attacks on proven science, in an attempt to discredit it, and seek to intimidate governments with litigation, or the threat of it, the WHO said.

Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative department, called on national leaders to resist such tactics and use the full force of the Convention to safeguard people’s health.

He said countries should limit interactions with tobacco companies or their representatives and disclose all such meetings publicly, reject any sort of partnership with the industry, including funding, as well as excluding tobacco companies from endorsement deals or sponsorship of youth-related initiatives.

They should also avoid granting any incentives or benefits to the tobacco industry, including subsidies or tax breaks, and should ensure that effective mechanisms are in place to prevent any influence from the industry on public health.

The WHO said that around half of people who use tobacco will be killed by it, estimating that more than 8 million people will die every year by 2030, with four out of five of these deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries. A third of smoking-related deaths in 2004 were in children.

Exposure to secondhand smoke is estimated to kill another 600,000 people annually, according to WHO estimates, which show that almost half of all children regularly breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke and more than 40% of children have at least one parent who smokes.

It warned that most people get hooked on tobacco before they reach 20, and that the industry was now relentlessly targeting young people, especially women, in an attempt to recruit new smokers.



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