WHO Goes Global Against Tobacco

Emily Billings, 8, relaxes on her five-month-old Yorkshire pig Cookie at the Oxford County Fair Thursday, Sept. 14, 2006, in Oxford, Maine. The pig will be put up for sale during the Youth Animal Auction on Friday. The fair continues through Saturday with a variety of activities and events.
AP/Lewiston Sun Journal
May 31, 2000 - The World Health Organization launched a global campaign against the tobacco industry Wednesday, accusing the companies of systematically spreading death almost unchallenged.

The organization said it would make a global ban on tobacco advertising a priority in an agreement to be negotiated by its 191 members.

Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, director-general of the WHO, marked World No-Tobacco Day in the Thai capital to pay tribute to activists who won a nationwide ban on tobacco advertising in 1992.

About 10,000 people demonstrated in central Bangkok, singing anti-tobacco songs and starting a clock representing one death every eight seconds from tobacco-related disease.

"Tobacco is a communicable disease. It's communicated through advertising, marketing and making smoking appear admirable and glamorous," Brundtland said.

Brundtland accused the tobacco industry of using sports and entertainment figures to market its products to children and create a new generation of smokers.

"It is hard, if not impossible, to find any parallel in history where people who have gone about in such a systematic way perpetuating death and destruction have gone unpunished and unquestioned," said Brundtland, a former prime minister of Norway.

Brundtland said 10 million people a year will die from tobacco-related causes by 2030, more than 70 percent of them from the developing world, an increasingly important market for tobacco companies. Currently, the figure is 3.5 million to 4 million.

David Wilson, regional manager of corporate affairs for British-American Tobacco, which has a 15 percent share of the global cigarette market, denied on Tuesday that children are targeted.

Wilson also complained that the industry was being "locked out" of negotiations on the planned Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which will consider the global advertising ban.

Brundtland said tobacco companies would be given the chance to put their case across to the WHO in Geneva in October.

According to the WHO, about 1.15 billion of the world's 6 billion-plus people are smokers.

China, the world's biggest tobacco producer and consumer, will draw up a national tobacco-control plan to reduce smoking-related health problems and economic losses, the state-run Beijing Morning Post said Wednesday.

Brundtland praised Thailand for responding "forcibly" 10 years ago when it came under pressure to open its markets to foreign tobacco. Thailand eventually was forced to open to foreign imports, but the spat created momentum for the anti-tobacco campaign.

Health Minister Korn Dabbaransi said Thailand's action had left it "the loser in trade, but the winner in health."

By Matthew Pennington