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WHO: Treaty Making Inroads in Global Tobacco Epidemic

FILE - A man smokes in front of a "no smoking" sign outside a shopping mall in Shanghai, Jan. 10, 2014.
FILE - A man smokes in front of a "no smoking" sign outside a shopping mall in Shanghai, Jan. 10, 2014.

The World Health Organization said its landmark tobacco control treaty is making inroads in slowing the global tobacco epidemic. But as it observes the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the U.N. agency warns the fight to prevent millions of tobacco-related premature deaths is far from over.

The World Health Organization said it is celebrating a number of successes in reducing tobacco use during the past 10 years.

Since the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control entered into force, the U.N. agency notes the number of countries introducing graphic pictures and health warnings on cigarette packages has increased from five to 50.

It finds more than 80 percent of the 180 countries ratifying the treaty adopted new tobacco control legislation or strengthened existing laws. Technical Officer with the Framework Convention Tibor Szilagyi told VOA countries implementing measures required under the Convention are seeing positive results.

“They have started seeing decreases of let us say 15 to 30 percent in the past 10 years in tobacco use prevalence, which means that millions of deaths have been averted by the implementation of this treaty,” stated Szilagyi.

But the World Health Organization reports about six million people a year die prematurely from causes related to tobacco, the majority in low- and middle income countries. It warns tobacco use will account for more than eight million deaths each year by 2030, if the epidemic is unchecked.

The agency accuses the tobacco industry of using its economic power to influence governments not to enact control policies. It said the industry uses slick media campaigns to entice women and young people to pick up the smoking habit.

Dr. Szilagyi said countries in Africa are targets of these ploys and many have succumbed to the economic temptations dangled before them. But he notes many do not. He said Kenya, Mauritius, and South Africa among others have resisted the tobacco industry and made strong progress in implementing the Convention.

He said another challenge is emerging tobacco products. “This includes electronic cigarettes and electronic nicotine delivery systems and non-nicotine delivery systems, but also those products, which have been traditionally used in some countries, but not in others," he explained. "For example, water pipe tobacco, which becomes trendy and widespread among mostly young people in those countries where water pipe was not traditionally used.”

The Framework Convention continues to be strengthened through additional protocols. Parties to the Convention are in the process of promoting ratification of a new protocol dealing with illicit trade in tobacco products.