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Countries need to take action against tobacco advertising, UN health agency says

Countries need to take action against tobacco advertising, UN health agency says

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO), the world's leading international public health agency, is calling on law-makers around the world to take action against advertising of tobacco and tobacco products in order to protect the health of the young and the old, smokers and non-smokers alike.

The call comes ahead of talks among 191 countries in Geneva later this month to negotiate global rules for tobacco control. "Three years ago when we started the process of negotiating the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), I said tobacco addiction is a communicated disease - communicated through advertising, promotion and sponsorship," said Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Director-General of WHO, who is urging countries to remain vigilant and alert about action by tobacco companies.

Her word of caution comes as tobacco companies embark on a massive global public relations bid to woo governments away from negotiating strong agreements against the promotion and advertising of tobacco. Specifically, British American Tobacco (BAT) has launched a new global public relations campaign titled "International Tobacco Product Marketing Standards." Together with rival manufacturers Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco, the companies have agreed to voluntarily adopt measures to prevent marketing activities from being directed at non-smokers, particularly the young. They are calling on governments, UN agencies and the World Bank to put their faith in a "new initiative" that is neither new nor effective, WHO says.

"We have seen no evidence that tobacco companies are capable of self-regulation and we need to be alert to any new attempts to persuade us that this new effort will succeed," Dr. Brundtland said. "We know what works and what doesn't. Voluntary codes have proved to be a failure. A World Bank/WHO study, on the other hand, found that interventions like comprehensive advertisement bans and price increases have a measurable and sustained impact on decreased tobacco use," said Joy de Bayer, Tobacco Control Coordinator at the World Bank.

Voluntary codes of advertising were first adopted - and found wanting - by the United States, Canada and United Kingdom, according to WHO, which notes that no country has succeeded in designing regulations that eliminate children's exposure to tobacco advertising while allowing advertising aimed at adult smokers.

In 1999, WHO estimated that tobacco killed 4 million people per year. New estimates for the year 2000 put that figure at 4.2 million deaths per year. One billion people will die from tobacco use in this century, about 150 million in the first two decades, with the developing world accounting for seven in ten of those deaths.