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WHO Delegates Move to Cut Second-Hand Smoke


Efforts to implement a 2003 global tobacco control treaty moved forward after delegates from more than 140 nations pledged to end smoking in public places and work places. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, World Health Organization officials say there has been greater public support for creating smoke free areas than had been expected.

The delegates meeting this week in Bangkok prepared guidelines for governments that want to restrict smoking at work or public places.

The meeting, organized by the World Health Organization, follows an international tobacco control treaty signed in 2003.

Jonathan Liberman, a director of law and regulation at the Cancer Council of Victoria, Australia, says the strong support from delegates for reducing exposure to second-hand smoke exceeded expectations.

"The meeting was just an extraordinary success," said Liberman. "We came here as civil society with hopes about the decisions that the parties would make and they've basically delivered on everything. People understood the problem they were here to address."

WHO says over five million people died in 2006 from tobacco-related illnesses. The organization also warns that if trends continue, tobacco will kill 10 million people a year by 2020, with 70 percent of the deaths in developing countries.

The WHO estimates that more than 200,000 non-smokers die each year from illnesses caused by breathing smoke from other people's cigarettes.

Dr. Haik Nikogosian, a member of the WHO secretariat, says such bans find strong support around the world.

"I cannot name any other area of tobacco control during the recent years has grown in the importance of the public perception," he said. "It is remarkable support - political and public support to this area. Four years ago you couldn't even imagine about that in restaurants and bars with the bans to smoking. But it has happened now."

Several nations and dozens of cities have in recent years restricted smoking in public areas, such as restaurants.

Ahmed Ogwell, a WHO representative from Kenya, says the aim is to protect non-smokers.

"I don't see it as anything other than protecting someone who is not affected by the addiction to stay unaffected by the addiction, so 100 percent smoke free places really should be the norm and not the exception," said Ogwell.

Treaty signatories meet next year in South Africa to discuss guidelines on regulating advertising and promoting tobacco products and on packaging for cigarettes.

The delegates this week also started work on a new treaty to fight tobacco smuggling.

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