Wednesday, December 9, 2009

WHO Calls For More Smoking Laws

Only 5.4 percent of the world's population was covered by comprehensive smoke-free laws in 2008, up from 3.1 percent in 2007, the World Health Organization says.

The statistics are contained in WHO's second report on the global tobacco epidemic - the easiest threat to health to obviate.

This means that 154 million more people are no longer exposed to the harms of tobacco smoke in work places, restaurants, bars and other indoor public places. Seven countries – Colombia, Djibouti, Guatemala, Mauritius, Panama, Turkey and Zambia – implemented comprehensive smoke-free laws in 2008, bringing the total to 17.

"Although this represents progress, the fact that more than 94 percent of people remain unprotected by comprehensive smoke-free laws shows that much more work needs to be done," said Dr. Ala Alwan, WHO assistant director-general. "Urgent action is needed to protect people from the death and illness caused by exposure to tobacco smoke."

WHO chose to make smoke-free environments the focus of the report because of the harm of second-hand smoke, which causes about 600,000 premature deaths per year, countless crippling and disfiguring illnesses and economic losses in the tens of billions of dollars per year.

"There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke. Therefore, action is needed by governments to protect their people," Alwan said.

The report tracks the global tobacco epidemic, giving governments and other stakeholders a tool to see where evidence-based demand reduction interventions have been implemented and where more progress is needed. It gives country-by-country tobacco use prevalence figures as well as data about cigarette taxation, bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, support for treatment of tobacco dependence, enforcement of tobacco-free laws and monitoring of the epidemic.

WHO says tobacco use continues to be the leading preventable cause of death, killing more than five million people per year. Unless urgent action is taken to control the tobacco epidemic, the annual death toll could rise to eight million by 2030, the report states. More than 80 percent of those premature deaths would occur in low and middle-income countries – in other words, precisely where it is hardest to deflect and to bear such tremendous losses.

Other key findings of the report:

* Five more countries – Djibouti, Egypt, Islamic Republic of Iran, Malaysia and Mauritius – met the best practices for health warnings on cigarette packages.

* Three more countries – Israel, Romania and the United Arab Emirates – offered comprehensive help to quit.

* Only one country – Panama – joined the small group of countries that bans all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. More than 90 percent of people lack protection from tobacco industry marketing.

* Six more countries – the Czech Republic, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, the Netherlands and Seychelles –– levied tobacco taxes higher than 75 percent of retail price.

* Of the world's 100 most populous cities, 22 are smoke-free.



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