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Anti-Tobacco Experts Gather In Australia

Hundreds of health experts meet in Sydney to discuss ways to block tobacco marketing in developing countries.

Public health experts from the Asia-Pacific region say they want to find ways to block tobacco marketing in developing countries.

Delegates at the Asia Pacific Conference on Tobacco or Health are particularly concerned about smoking rates in China, India and Indonesia, where hundreds of millions of people regularly consume tobacco.

They heard that smoking kills 5 million people each year - more than the combined toll from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.

In China, approximately 1 million smokers die a year from tobacco-related diseases, while about 100,000 lives are lost through second-hand smoke - or passive smoking. It is estimated that if current trends continue, the number of smoking-related deaths in China will reach 2 million a year by 2020.

Professor Ian Olver from Cancer Council Australia says developing nations are exposed to extensive tobacco marketing.

"The tobacco industry is targeting those countries because they are very profitable," Olver says, "They have got a high growth rate in terms of population and they have less regulation of tobacco products, so these are markets that are being exploited. As countries like Australia increase the regulation and decrease the sales of tobacco, the tobacco companies are moving in to these easier and more lucrative markets."

The conference aims to share expertise that could help developing countries counter tobacco marketing. Western countries, such as Australia, think that restricting advertisements and raising taxes on cigarettes help drive down consumption.

Surin Pitsuwan, the secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, says a global alliance is needed to fight smoking.

"We need to be united and strong in standing up against the international onslaught to turn our people into smokers and I think that is a very, very important and moral imperative," Pitsuwan said.

Many major tobacco companies deny specifically targeting developing markets. British American Tobacco, an industry heavyweight, rejects suggestions that it exploits developing countries. A spokeswoman says that tobacco consumption poses real risks to health, so the company believes the "manufacture, distribution and sale" of its products should be regulated.

One problem with reducing tobacco use is that in many developing economies, governments control tobacco monopolies, or rely heavily on tobacco taxes for revenue. In China, for instance, the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration oversees all aspects of the industry, including tobacco production and distribution, and brings in tens of millions of dollars in revenue a year.