WHO chief wants tobacco firms pushed ‘out of business’

Margaret Chan urges countries that produce tobacco leaves to ‘move faster’ to fight tobacco

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World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan urged global action Wednesday to drive tobacco companies “out of business” and hailed progress in tackling smoking in many countries.

Speaking at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Abu Dhabi, Chan welcomed steps taken by several countries, led by Australia, to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes.

She called for similar action by other nations.

Tobacco companies “use all sorts of tactics including funding political parties, individual politicians to work for them ... There is nothing they would not exploit to undermine the governments’ resolve and determination to protect their own people,” Chan told reporters.

“It’s going to be a tough fight ... [but] we should not give up until we make sure that the tobacco industry goes out of business,” she said.

Despite a decline in the number of smokers in many countries, more needs to be done to curb tobacco use in order to meet the global target of a 30-percent reduction in consumption by 2025, participants said.

“Largely thanks to legislative measures, smoking has plummeted in several countries,” Chan told the meeting, referring to the latest WHO report showing that the proportion of men who smoke is going down in 125 countries.

“Non-smoking is becoming the norm.”

“We are happy to see this progress in so many countries,” she told AFP on the sidelines of the conference.

However, she urged countries that produce tobacco leaves to “move faster” to fight tobacco in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization and the WHO.

The five-day conference aims to prove that tobacco use, in all its forms, is a major contributor to the occurrence of non-communicable disease (NCD) – cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases.

Organizers warn that tobacco causes one in six of all NCD deaths and almost half of current tobacco users will eventually die of tobacco-related disease.

“Tobacco use is one of the biggest risk factors for NCDs, and especially for cancer,” Chan told the conference. “It is also one of the most responsive to control measures.”

According to the WHO, one person dies every six seconds due to tobacco – nearly 6 million people each year.

Smoking could kill 1 billion people this century, it says.

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