FILE - An anti-tobacco warning is seen on a road divider on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Nov. 4, 2016.
FILE - An anti-tobacco warning is seen on a road divider on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Nov. 4, 2016.

GENEVA - Delegates from 137 countries are attending a week-long anti-tobacco conference to exchange ideas and propose policies for tackling the worldwide tobacco pandemic. Organizers say progress has been made since the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control came into force in 2005, but more needs to be done.

Organizers of the 8th Conference of the Parties to the WHO Convention, known as COP8, credit high taxes on cigarette packages for discouraging sales, as well as the designation of smoke-free environments, improved packaging and labeling, and bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. 

But Head of Convention Secretariat Vera da Costa e Silva says cross-border advertising remains less regulated and difficult to enforce. She tells VOA the tobacco industry has circumvented the bans by using Instagram, Facebook and other social media.

"By using social media, not only they capture the attention of young people who are the biggest users of social media, but they also keep tobacco as socially acceptable," she said.

WHO reports there are more than one billion smokers in the world, with around 80 percent living in low- and middle-income countries. More than seven million people die prematurely from tobacco-related causes every year, according to WHO. 

Da Silva says the emergence of new and novel tobacco products is one of the biggest barriers to the work of the COP. She says the group is calling on governments to regulate and forbid practices such as e-cigarette use and vaping until more evidence of their effects is available.