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Few Countries Implementing Life-Saving Anti-Tobacco Measures

FILE - A man has his lunch behind a poster demarcating a No-Smoking zone in Singapore.
FILE - A man has his lunch behind a poster demarcating a No-Smoking zone in Singapore.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging nations to implement a series of cost-effective, anti-tobacco measures it says will help their populations quit smoking. A new WHO report found that progress in combating the tobacco epidemic and in reducing demand is being made, but not enough.

A survey found 36 countries have introduced one or more measures aimed at helping people quit smoking. Only Turkey and Brazil have implemented all of WHO's recommended anti-tobacco measures. These include graphic images on cigarette packages warning of the dangers of smoking, banning tobacco advertising and promotion, and raising taxes on tobacco products.

While this is progress, it is seen as far too little to stop the global tobacco epidemic that each year prematurely kills more than eight million people, 80 percent of them in developing countries.

Program manager of WHO's tobacco control unit, Vinayak Prasad, accuses the tobacco industry of being devious and finding new ways to hinder progress. He said the industry is reinventing itself in hopes of shedding its bad reputation and regaining legitimacy.

"So, that is one of the reasons that many countries are finding it difficult to make progress because the industry has gone into creating new and novel products and pushing the governments to have less regulatory compliances," he said. "And, that is a problem in all regions of the world."

Prasad said the tobacco industry has come up with several smoking alternatives it claims are less dangerous than cigarettes. However, he noted the new heated tobacco products are the same as cigarettes, except they do not emit any smoke. He said electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco but do have nicotine — and there is no evidence that e-cigarettes help people quit.

"The evidence in the U.S., for example, is that they were liberal to open the market for electronic cigarettes for almost like seven, eight years," he said. "In one stroke, they have seen an increase in youth tobacco in the last three years; where the youth is starting to get to say, 'Oh, this is safer, this is nice. Let us take it and then move on to tobacco.' So, it is also a gateway for young people."

The World Health Organization warns tobacco has a huge health and economic cost. It says cigarettes are the number one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, cancers and respiratory diseases. The agency says the cost to the world economy is $1.4 trillion or nearly two percent of global Gross Domestic Product.