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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

''Tobacco Kills 5.4m People Globally Every Year''

The menace of tobacco use across the world came to the fore Tuesday as delegates to the 15th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH) were told that tobacco-related diseases kill about 5.4m people annually.
Speaking to journalists shortly before the opening of the conference, Mr. Matt Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said a substantial part of this number were second-hand smokers, among them children.
He urged governments around the world to implement the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Article 5.3 whose guidelines were approved in 2008 to protect their people from the tobacco multinationals.
The Article provides for the protection of public health policies with respect to tobacco control from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.
Myers maintained that there was a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.
Speaking at the opening ceremony in the presence of some of the world’s leaders, Health Minister of Singapore, Gan Kim Yong, said the meeting was a major milestone in the fight against smoking in the country.
Yong said that Singapore, as a signatory to the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, was keen to establish, engage and support local, regional and international partnerships for tobacco control.
“The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. It kills nearly six million people a year. This is why tobacco control is one of the top priorities in Singapore's public health efforts. We believe the linkages formed through this important platform of WCTOH 2012 will enable diverse groups to come together to take a collective stand against tobacco and save more lives,” he said.
Present at the opening ceremony were Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organisation; Dr Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General, Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Health Ministers and national representatives from ASEAN, Australia, Fiji, Norway, Russia, Turkey and the USA; as well as renowned technical experts Prof Judith Mackay, Prof Sir Richard Peto and Dr. Prakash C Gupta.
This will be the first time the Conference is hosted in Southeast Asia, and about 2,600 international delegates and policy-makers from 100 countries are participating.
“Singapore is the first in the world to impose duty-paid marking on cigarettes to counter-illicit trade, the first in Asia to make graphic health warnings mandatory and also a global forerunner in having a comprehensive smoke-free ban,” said Mr. Ang Hak Seng, Chief Executive Officer, Singapore’s Health Promotion Board (HPB).
Organisers said this year’s conference theme, “Towards a Tobacco-Free World: Planning Globally, Acting Locally'', is strategically focused on planning and coordination of multi-sectoral tobacco control efforts at the international level, while customising local policies and programmes to suit the unique requirements of individual countries.
In a keynote address, Dr Chan said the tobacco industry is engaged in an all- out effort to subvert tobacco control laws: “Tactics aimed at undermining anti-tobacco campaigns, and subverting the WHO FCTC were no longer covert or cloaked by an image of corporate social responsibility.
They are out in the open and they are extremely aggressive. We can, and must, stop this industry’s massive contribution to sickness and death.”
Also speaking at a workshop for journalists, Mr. Bode Oluwafemi of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), said as the tobacco control measures gathers momentum, the industry has escalated efforts at undermining control legislations.
Oluwafemi said that since the west had imposed heavy taxes on tobacco aimed at reducing consumption, the tobacco multinationals have turned their searchlight on African countries with aggressive marketing to recruit smokers.
He urged African countries especially, Nigeria, not to sign off the future of their youths by refusing to pass tobacco control legislations that would have substantially reduced the number of people likely to pick the habit.
He said the danger of tobacco is that passive smokers (second-hand) are as affected by the dangers of the epidemic as well as the smokers themselves.
WCTOH is one of the world's most prestigious platforms on tobacco control, where the best and most dedicated experts and leaders congregate for debate, exchange of perspectives and overall pursuit of greater solidarity against tobacco use.
The overall objectives of WCTOH according to the organisers are to: provide a platform to build countries’ capacity in tobacco control through the sharing of best practices, experiences, knowledge and research; Strengthen the next generation of tobacco control advocates through a youth pre-conference and the participation of youth delegates at the main conference and renew the commitment to fight the global tobacco epidemic through the conference declaration.