WHO keeps up anti-tobacco fight
UNITED NATIONS, June 28 (UPI)-- A new $17 million program for tobacco control research in developing countries was announced Thursday by the World Health Organization, the main health care agency of the United Nations, as part of its ongoing campaign agai
The initiative, called International Tobacco Health Research and Capacity Building Program and co-sponsored by WHO and the U.S. National Institutes of Health, will support research on tobacco consumption and related health risks in developing countries over the next five years, U.N. officials said.
Besides providing a better understanding of the tobacco issue, the program will build up the institutional and personnel capacity of developing
countries in tackling what WHO calls the "tobacco epidemic."
"Through this new U.S.-WHO partnership, more countries can enhance their research capacity and strengthen their ability to effectively control tobacco use," said Dr. Derek Yach, WHO's executive director of noncommunicable diseases and mental health.
With few exceptions, most tobacco control research to date has concentrated on developed countries, where tobacco consumption is rising and
tobacco-related deaths are multiplying rapidly, according to WHO.
The agency estimates that 70 percent of all tobacco-related deaths will occur in low and middle-income countries starting in 2020.
"Developing countries need to act now if they are to save lives," warned Yach. "The most effective policies are those backed by the right research
and data," he added, noting that research in Brazil, South Africa and Thailand has led to effective policies.
WHO said new evidence on tobacco use and trends in developing countries would assist negotiators working to achieve a strong and effective Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which is being drafted by representatives
from 191 states.
The WHO opposes any further research of new varieties of tobacco that could be less addictive.
In a recent case, the Argentine government seized and burned tobacco plants that had been genetically modified by a U.S.-based company, Vector Group Inc., by distributing free seeds to farmers who were clients of its competitor, Philip Morris Inc.
The plants had been genetically modified by Vector to block almost entirely the formation of nicotine, as part of a plan to take the lead in a race to develop potentially less harmful cigarettes. Vector said it wanted to use the tobacco to make nonaddictive cigarettes that could help people quit smoking.
Philip Morris, British American Tobacco PLC and other companies called on the Argentine authorities to stop the cultivation of genetically modified tobacco. They argued the new type of tobacco, produced through laboratory research in the United States, could mistakenly be mixed with the regular
tobacco that they buy.
In May, the European Parliament adopted new tobacco rules for Europe, fashioned after WHO guidelines, covering additive levels, addictive
substances and health warnings. The rules are pending approval from EU member states.
The new regulations establish that, starting in 2004, each cigarette to be consumed in the EU can contain only 10 milligrams of tar, 1 milligram of
nicotine and 10 milligrams of carbon monoxide. The same limits will apply to exports starting in 2007.
New warning labels will cover 70 percent of tobacco products' surfaces, while tobacco companies will be required to disclose all the ingredients to consumers, via EU governments, by the end of next year.
Proposals for regulating tobacco advertising and sponsorship will be forthcoming, according to EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne, who works in close cooperation with WHO authorities in the anti-tobacco campaign.