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Friday, November 27, 1998 Published at 02:03 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Asian 'tobacco holocaust'

Recent research says a third of Chinese men could die of smoking

Health experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO) have accused multinational tobacco companies of promoting what they call a "tobacco holocaust" in Asia.

Dr Nils Billo: Asia has lots of young potential smokers
They say that aggressive marketing of cigarettes to children throughout Asia will lead to smoking-related deaths exceeding those of AIDS, tuberculosis and infant deaths combined by the year 2050.

Speaking at an international meeting in Thailand, a WHO representative said 250 million children alive today will eventually die from tobacco if they take up smoking at the same rate as today's adults.

Asians are already the world's greatest consumers of tobacco.

Last week, Chinese research revealed that 70% of Chinese men smoke and, if they do not change their habits, a third of men now under 30 will eventually die of smoking.

Young people in danger

[ image: Asians are world's greatest consumers of tobacco]
Asians are world's greatest consumers of tobacco
Health experts say there is reliable data to suggest smoking habits in other countries in the region are equally pervasive.

"Trans-national companies are trying to find markets so Asia is a real market with a lot of young people so they are they are trying to recruit new smokers into this habit and sell more cigarettes," says Dr Nils Billo from the International Union Against Tuberculosis Lung Disease.

"It's very simple and Asia is a perfect place because laws are not yet in place and campaigns are not strong enough to actually prevent people from starting smoking," Mr Billo says.

Surveys conducted in the Philippines, where there is no ban preventing the sale of cigarettes to minors, report that half of boys aged between 10 and 14 smoke.

Thailand is an example, say experts, of what can be achieved with effective legislation.

Smoking prevalence among 15-to-19-year-olds in Thailand dropped around 30% after tougher laws were put into place.

Thailand is the only country in the world where cigarette packets carry a warning that smoking causes impotence.

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