The World Health Organization is calling for all countries to dramatically increase efforts to prevent premature deaths from tobacco-related illnesses.  Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

The World Health Organization report finds only five percent of the world's population live in countries that fully protect their residents from smoking hazards.  It says that governments around the world collect more than $200 billion in tobacco taxes every year, but spend less than one fifth of one percent of that money on tobacco control.

The director of the WHO Tobacco Free Initiative, Douglas Bettcher, tells VOA unless greater efforts are made to reduce tobacco consumption, the world is in for a public health crisis of immense proportions.

"It is estimated that up to 100 million lives were lost to tobacco-related deaths in the last century," he said. "And, if present trends continue, up to one billion lives could be lost in this century.  We are predicting that the current 5.4 million deaths due to tobacco consumption in this year will increase to eight million in 2030.  And, if those relentless trends continue, we can see a catastrophic toll." 

The report says about 80 percent of the deaths are expected to occur in poor countries.  It warns that the shift of the tobacco epidemic to the developing world will lead to unprecedented levels of disease and early death in countries where healthcare services are least available. 

Dr. Bettcher says many lives can be saved if governments adopt tobacco control policies.   He says there is evidence the WHO six-point plan of action will reduce tobacco use and deaths if implemented.  He says one of the most effective strategies is for governments to protect people from tobacco smoke.

"We have to globalize this new wave of banning smoke in all work places and public places," Dr. Bettcher said. "A halfway house is no good.  To protect lives, to save lives we have got to ban the way that Uruguay, U.K. and Ireland have done recently...  We must ban and we must enforce 100 percent advertising, promotion and sponsorship ban.  Finally, one of the most cost-effective interventions to reduce consumption is raising taxes on tobacco." 

Dr. Bettcher says it is also important to set up support groups to help smokers quit.  He says four-fifths of all smokers want help, but in most cases, help is not available.

According to the report, nearly two thirds of the world's smokers live in 10 countries, with China accounting for nearly 30 percent and India for about 10 percent of all smokers.  Heavy tobacco use also occurs in Indonesia, Russia, the United States, Japan, Brazil, Bangladesh, Germany, and Turkey.