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Stop the untruths, WHO tells the tobacco industry

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"Tobacco is the only consumer product that kills people when used as the manufacturer intends." World Smokefree Day New Zealand

The World Health Organization (WHO) condemned the tobacco industry for spreading untruths about smoking in public places and called for greater international efforts to ensure smoke-free environments for all.

In a statement to mark World No Tobacco Day, WHO said the tobacco industry's own documents show it has repeatedly misled and misinformed the public about the health risks and dangers of second-hand tobacco smoke and about the economic impact of smoking bans.

"We all know that smoking kills," said Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, "but what is less well known is that hundreds of thousands of people who have never smoked die each year from diseases caused by breathing smoke from other people's cigarettes. The solution is simple: 100% smoke-free environments. What isn't so simple is overcoming tobacco industry untruths about smoke-free policies."

The theme of World No Tobacco Day, "Smoke-Free Environments", calls attention to the need for leaders to protect people from the serious harm caused by second-hand tobacco smoke by passing and enforcing laws requiring 100% smoke-free environments in all indoor and public places.

Second-hand smoke is known to cause cancer in humans. It also causes severe acute and chronic heart disease, and is linked to bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma. In children it is linked to lower respiratory infections, asthma, middle-ear infections and sudden infant death syndrome. Babies of women exposed to second-hand smoke during pregnancy are often born underweight.

WHO emphasized that research showed that 100% smoke-free environments not only work, but are good for business, cost little, and prevent people-especially the young-from taking up smoking. Despite this evidence, the WHO statement said, the tobacco industry continues to perpetuate myths that ventilation systems can protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke exposure, that smoke-free policies hurt businesses, or that smoking bans infringe on a smoker's rights and freedom of choice.

Dr Omi recognized the outstanding efforts of individuals and organizations for their action at national and local levels to create smoke-free environments.

  • Smoking and other forms of tobacco use are the second biggest cause of death in the world.

  • Smoking is the world's single biggest preventable cause of death.

  • Tobacco claims 4.9 million lives a year, and if the present consumption patterns continue, the number of deaths will increase to 10 million by the year 2020. Some 70% of these will be in developing countries, which are the main target of the tobacco industry's marketing ploys.

  • Second-hand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke or tobacco smoke pollution, contains thousands of identified chemicals, at least 250 of which are known to be carcinogenic or otherwise toxic.

The World Health Organization, 29 May 2007

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