May 31, 2011

Tobacco Will Kill 6 Million People This Year: WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday that tobacco will kill about six million people this year, including 600,000 nonsmokers.

The WHO said since there is often a lag of many years between when people start smoking and when it affects health, the epidemic of tobacco-related disease and death has just begun.  The organization said the annual death toll could reach 8 million by 2030.

The United Nations health body urged more governments to sign up to and implement its tobacco control treaty, warning that if current trends persist, tobacco could cause up to a billion deaths in the 21st century.

The WHO said some countries are taking encouraging actions against tobacco use.  Uruguay requires health warnings that cover 80 percent of the surface of tobacco packs, and China implemented a ban on smoking in public places last month.

However, the WHO said if its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) was to achieve its full potential as the "most powerful tobacco control tool," more needed to be done.

"It is not enough to become a party," WHO director-general Margaret Chan said in a statement. "Countries must also pass, or strengthen, the necessary implementing legislation and then rigorously enforce it."

Tobacco kills up to half its users and is described as "one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced," the WHO said. 

It said smoking is one of the biggest contributors to a worldwide epidemic of non-communicable diseases like heart attack, stroke, cancer and emphysema.

The World Lung Foundation (WLF) campaign group launched a website Tuesday of graphic and gruesome images of the health effects of smoking that health officials can download and use for warnings.

"Countries that mandate large graphic pack warnings are not only fulfilling their legal obligations, they are taking a big step forward toward better informing smokers of the deadly harms of tobacco," Peter Baldini, the WLF's chief executive, said in a statement.


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