WHO: Smoking kills 5 million every year

(AP) -- Tobacco use kills at least 5 million people every year, a figure that could rise if countries don't take stronger measures to combat smoking, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

In a new report on use and control, the U.N. agency said nearly 95 percent of the global population is unprotected by laws banning smoking. WHO said secondhand smoking kills about 600,000 people every year.

The report describes countries' various strategies to curb smoking, including protecting people from smoke, enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, and raising taxes on tobacco products. Those were included in a package of six strategies WHO unveiled last year, but less than 10 percent of the world's population is covered by any single measure.

"People need more than to be told that tobacco is bad for human health," said Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO's Tobacco-Free Initiative. "They need their governments to implement the WHO Framework Convention."

Most of WHO's anti-tobacco efforts are centered on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an international treaty ratified by nearly 170 countries in 2003. The convention theoretically obliges countries to take action to reduce tobacco use, though it is unclear if they can be punished for not taking adequate measures, since they can simply withdraw from the treaty.

Other experts questioned how effective WHO's strategies were.

"It's like the well-intentioned blind leading the blind," said Patrick Basham, director of the Democracy Institute, a London and Washington-based think tank. He said WHO's policies were based more on hope than evidence.

Basham said measures like increasing taxes on tobacco products and banning advertising don't address the root causes of why people smoke. Smoking levels naturally drop off - as they have in Western countries - when populations become richer and better-educated.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death and WHO estimates that, unless countries take drastic action, tobacco could kill about 8 million people every year by 2030, mostly in developing countries.

Basham said officials should focus on anti-poverty measures to stem the smoking problem, though that is beyond WHO's mandate as a health agency.

"The cynical view is that the anti-tobacco lobby has itself now become an industry and we will never be able to do enough to stop ," Basham said. "Tobacco use will change, but it has very little to do with the kinds of things WHO is promoting."

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User comments

Dec 09, 2009
Yes- it does seem that the object of this finding is to try to further demonize a well-known cause of disease and death, even when there is already widespread understanding of the risks that tobacco use entails.
It would be much better to utilize resources to try to combat the bigger problems of hunger, poverty, and lack of education, than to try to get points by belaboring the already proven and obvious.
I just had a smoke, so I'll probably wait awhile before I have another. Then I'll see about indulging in some holiday season adult beverage consumption.

Dec 11, 2009
Just wait until socialized health care is finalized. It will then become everyone's, especially the governments, business exactly what unhealthy habits you choose to pursue. It'll be awesome.

Dec 11, 2009
Governments tax tobacco to ostensibly pay for health care.

And once health care is socialized, they will tax trans fats, fast food, soda, high fructose corn syrup, parking close to a building, anything that they connect to negative health effects (like CO2 and methane which have literally no negative health effects) and can make money off of. As I said, this is gonna rock guys!

Dec 12, 2009
World governments are worried about over population and want to find a way to limit it. World goverments are trying to make more people live longer by doing away with health risks and improving medical care. Does anyone else see a lapse of logic?

Dec 14, 2009
Let's get back on topic -while tobacco provides nicotine, it is also a crop that is simple to modify genetically compared to other plants.
So instead of making tobacco farmers go bankrupt when people get more health-conscious, GM tobacco could provide a lot of value-added chemicals such as pharmaceuticals. We can fight smoking without making people unemployed.
Those who like a nicotine fix may try the Swedish variant of moist oral tobacco known as "snus", it is much safer than other types of oral tobacco (and, of course, will not give you lung cancer like cigarettes or smoked cannabis).

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