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WHO in fight to put out tobacco firms

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 11.06.54 AMWorld Health Organisation (WHO) chief, Margaret Chan, has urged global action 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 on Wednesday, Chan welcomed steps taken by countries, led by Australia, to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes.

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 per cent 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 the proportion of men who smoke is going down in 125 countries.

Chan said non-smoking “is becoming the norm”.

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

Participants at the conference have warned that unless urgent action is taken, the annual death toll could rise to eight million by 2030.

Chan voiced support for measures taken by Australia, Ireland, and most recently Britain, to introduce plain cigarette packaging, despite “being intimidated by tobacco industry threats of lengthy and costly litigation.”

But “the train has already left the station. The evidence base is strong, empirical, and comes from well-qualified, respected, and credible sources … We know that plain packaging works.”

Smoking rates have fallen in Australia since it introduced plain packaging legislation in 2012, although tobacco companies have blamed the decline on tax hikes.

Similar legislation passed in Ireland last month has been fully implemented, while Britain is set to bring in such measures in May next year.


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