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WHO Warns Tobacco Use Could Claim One Billion Lives This Century

The World Health Organization completed its first-ever global report on tobacco control. The grim statistics show that unless governments get more involved, the number of tobacco users will continue to increase worldwide and so will the number of tobacco-related deaths. Here is VOA's Carol Pearson.

The famously smokey cafes, restaurants and nightclubs in France are now smoke free.

In Turkey, smoke-filled village coffeehouses will soon become a hazy memory of the country's past. This year, smoking will be prohibited in many offices and buildings where the public gathers. Next year, it will be banned in the coffee houses as well.

The World Health Organization says smoking and tobacco use is the world's number one cause of preventable death.

Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, says with this report, countries will no longer be able to ignore the impact of tobacco use on public health.

"Now the spotlight is on. The spotlight is on and it is important for countries to demonstrate they have the political willpower to fight against a very powerful industry to protect their people," Dr. Chan said.

The report shows that nearly five and a half million people die every year from tobacco-related illnesses.

And if countries do not find the political will to ban tobacco use, the World Health Organization predicts the number of smoking-related deaths will rise to more than eight million a year by 2030 -- and 80 percent of those deaths will be in low to middle income countries.

World Health Organization tobacco expert Dr. Douglas Bettcher says there is an urgent need for tobacco control laws. "A total ban, and nothing short of a total ban on smoking in public places and work places protects people from the dangers of second-hand smoke and helps convince smokers to quit."

A study released earlier this year by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that strong tobacco control programs not only cut smoking among young people, but they encourage older smokers to quit as well.

This study found that the more money the states spent on anti-smoking programs, the larger the decline in adult smokers. However, most American states have cut money for tobacco control programs.

The World Health Organization finds that few governments are doing much to fix the problem and that money is part of the obstacle. Governments receive 500 times as much money from tobacco taxes as they spend on programs to reduce smoking.

The WHO recommends that countries protect their citizens from second-hand tobacco smoke, help smokers quit, educate people about the health dangers, enforce bans on tobacco advertising, and raise taxes on tobacco products -- the same measures the U.S. Centers for Disease Control say are effective in getting people to quit.