U.N. Sees More Smokers Despite Anti-Tobacco Drive
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations sought on Wednesday to defuse industry and government opposition to its anti-smoking proposals, saying the number of smokers in the world would increase even if the health campaign met its most optimistic goal
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the number of smokers would grow to 1.34 billion around the world by 2050 from the current 1.28 billion -- due to normal population growth -- even if anti-tobacco drives enjoy a "formidable success" and persuade 1 percent of smokers a year to quit.
"As the absolute number of smokers grows -- because of global population increases -- this will ensure a large enough market to keep the current generation of tobacco farmers in business," Annan said in a new report to the U.N. Economic and Social Council.
The World Health Organization, an arm of the United Nations, and its 191 member nations have been working for years on a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, designed to curb the spread of tobacco-related disease.
But the United States and others have blocked agreement on a treaty, arguing that steps such as higher tobacco taxes, advertising bans and smoking restrictions could harm tobacco firms and other economic interests.
However, a new WHO study used the results of successful anti-smoking campaigns in California, Massachusetts, Arizona and Oregon to project worldwide trends.
It concluded that strong programs in every country around the world -- an extremely unlikely event due to limited health budgets in poor countries -- would at best reduce the number of adult smokers by some 1 percent a year, a rate that lagged behind population growth forecasts.
"In other words, if countries achieve successes on the scale experienced in the states of California, Massachusetts, Arizona and Oregon, there will still be more smokers in 20 years and 50 years ... than there were at the beginning of the century," Annan said.
"Many governments have been reluctant to implement effective and comprehensive tobacco control policies because of fears of harmful economic consequences ... Accumulating evidence shows those economic fears to be largely unfounded," he said.
Without any change in current smoking patterns, there would be close to 1.7 billion smokers in 2020 and more than 2.2 billion in 2050, according to WHO.
According to WHO statistics to be published later this year, cigarette smoking is responsible for some 4.2 million deaths per year, and that number will climb to 8.4 million deaths a year in 2020.
WHO calls tobacco-related disease "the single most important cause of preventable deaths in the world," Annan said.