UN urges concerted global action to stem deadly toll from tobacco use

31 May 2011 – The United Nations today urged governments to drastically step up their efforts to curb the use of tobacco, stressing that policy-makers already have the tools they need to combat consumption of a drug that kills nearly 6 million people worldwide every year.

Marking World No Tobacco Day, the UN called on all countries to sign up to the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which has accumulated 173 States Parties since it was opened for signature in 2003.

The United States, Indonesia, Argentina and Ethiopia are among the few remaining countries not to have become States Parties to the treaty, which spells out a series of measures aimed at reducing use of tobacco control, such as restrictions on sales to minors, the introduction of taxes on cigarettes to reduce demand, and the implementation of comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising.

“We have the treaty. It’s effective. Let’s use it,” Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative, told the UN News Centre. “The measures are not expensive. All we need is political will.”

Dr. Bettcher said too many countries were lagging in their commitments to eliminate all forms of tobacco advertising or to ban smoking in workplaces and public spaces.

“That means no designated smoking areas, no carve-out areas for people to smoke.”

While there are no formal international guidelines in place yet on the appropriate level of taxes on cigarette packets, Dr. Bettcher said WHO has established a yardstick that such taxes should comprise at least 70 per cent of the eventual retail price.

This year’s Day is being celebrated less than four months before world leaders hold a high-level meeting at UN Headquarters in New York in September on non-communicable diseases such as cancer and heart disease – many of which are caused by tobacco use.

“What we start on 31 May we need to continue for the rest of the year,” Dr. Bettcher said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his message to mark the Day, noted the myriad health problems and costs associated with smoking and said that “tobacco use makes us poorer – in health and economic terms.”

Tobacco is estimated to have killed about 100 million people last century and could kill as many as 1 billion more this century unless action is taken.


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