Tobacco kills nearly six million people each year, according to WHO, and more than five million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while more than 600,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. Nearly 80 per cent of the world's one billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries. A new online WHO Global Report on Trends in Tobacco Smoking, launched today during the conference, finds that in 2010, there were 3.9 billion non-smokers aged 15 years and over in WHO member States (or 78 per cent of the 5.1 billion population aged 15 and over). According to the report, the number is projected to rise to 5 billion (or 81 per cent of the projected 6.1 billion population aged 15 and over) by 2025 if the current pace of tobacco cessation continues.
"This trend indicates countries are making inroads, but much greater action is needed to curb the tobacco epidemic if the global target to cut tobacco consumption by 30 per cent by 2025 to reduce premature deaths from NCDs [non-communicable diseases] is to be met," it said.
Countries wishing to protect their citizens through larger pictorial warnings on packages or by introducing plain packaging are being intimidated by tobacco industry threats of lengthy and costly litigation, according to the UN health chief. Dr. Chan noted that in the Philip Morris challenge to Uruguay's tobacco packaging laws, WHO has filed an amicus brief with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.
She also said Australia's legislation that mandates plain packaging, designed to make tobacco products less attractive, is also being challenged in a dispute being considered at the World Trade Organization. Following Australia's lead, more than 10 countries are considering plain packaging, the WHO said. Ireland became the second country to introduce plain packaging as law. The United Kingdom, Burkina Faso and New Zealand are the next most advanced followed by Chile, Panama, France, Norway, and Turkey.
"Bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship are not comprehensive as long as colour logos and other branding continue to operate as silent salesmen," she said.