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Smoking Now Leading Cause of Death Worldwide

  • Deborah Block

The use of tobacco is now the primary cause of death around the world. And the Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says not enough countries are taking adequate steps to discourage it. Dr. Thomas Frieden also touched on other threats to global health recently at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

More than 5 million people die each year from smoking, many of them in developing countries. And Dr. Thomas Frieden says fewer than ten per cent of the world's nations are doing enough to prevent it. The head of the Centers for Disease Control points to the United States and Uruguay as countries whose anti-tobacco programs have worked.

He says other countries should follow their example. "Tobacco is now the world's leading single cause of death. It kills more people than AIDS, TB (tuberculosis) and malaria combined. And unlike those conditions which are decreasing, it is increasing as a cause of death," he said.

But smoking is only one of the world's major problems, Dr. Frieden said, pointing out that traffic accident deaths are becoming an epidemic. More than 1 million people are killed in traffic each year, he said, including people who are walking or riding bikes.

"What will happen over the next 25, 20 years, unless we take urgent action, is that road traffic injuries will increase from 2 percent of all deaths, to 3 and a half percent of all deaths. They will become the 5th leading cause of death around the world," he said.

Dr. Frieden says respiratory infections, such as tuberculosis, continue to be another key problem. He says one billion people do not have access to clean water and two and a half billion do not have adequate sanitation.

He says better access to both would prevent the deaths of millions of people, including children who die from diarrhea disease. "We have cholera still in many parts of the world - a reflection of the failure to provide clean water and adequate sanitation."

The CDC Director says AIDS is still the major killer in Africa. He says part of the problem is that half of the people who have HIV - the virus that causes AIDS - do not even know they have it. "We know that people who know they're positive are much less likely to spread infections to others, and the only way you can get (health) services is to know you're positive," he said.

Dr. Frieden says obesity is also an increasing health problem. He points out there are now more overweight people worldwide than underweight people. And he says the yearly number of deaths from cancer could be cut in about half if people quit smoking, maintained a healthier diet and took part in more physical activity.

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