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BBC's Gill McGivering
"They've called on the media to... reveal what they call 'a grand cover-up'"
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Wednesday, 31 May, 2000, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
WHO attacks tobacco firms
Thai man smoking
Thailand has some of the toughest anti-tobacco laws
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has attacked tobacco companies over their marketing practices, saying they are particularly targeting young people in Asia.

In a campaign entitled "Tobacco Kills - Don't Be Duped" for World No Tobacco Day on Wednesday, the organisation criticised the sponsorship, advertising and glamourisation of tobacco in films, music and sports.

"We want to highlight the dubious, deceptive practices of the industry," said Derek Yach, project manager of the WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative.
Indians demonstrating near parliament in Delhi
Delhi saw protests against government's tobacco policy

In Bangkok, where the WHO launched its campaign, about 10,000 people marched and demonstrated against the tobacco industry.

A giant clock was unveiled showing that at least eight people died every minute from smoking.

South East Asia now has the world's second highest growth rate of smokers after the Middle East, Mr Yach said.

Smoking kills one in 10 adults, or 11,000 people every day. By 2030, it will be the world's leading killer, responsible for the deaths of six of 10 adults worldwide, 70% of those in developing countries.

In India, more than half of all cancers are tobacco-related, Mr Yach said. An estimated 600,000 die from tobacco-related deaths every year in India.

China, which has 320 million smokers, might expect to see 1 million deaths from smoking, he said.

"The evidence of the impact of tobacco demands we take a more strident approach," Mr Yach said.

'Unethical promoting'

WHO officials have accused the industry of using strategies outlawed in developed countries to push their products in Asia.

Thai demonstration
The number of Thai male smokers has falled by 10% in the last 13 years
Mr Yach said there was a wide variety of evidence of unethical promoting, citing a Benson and Hedges disco in Sri Lanka, where scantily-dressed women hand out cigarettes.

Some cigarettes in south-east Asia contain nicotine levels of up to 3.2 milligrams per cigarette, more than twice the maximum amount in most developed countries, the WHO says.

Tobacco companies have also been accused of trying to draw schoolchildren into the habit by deliberately placing billboards and other advertisements near schools in Asia and Latin America, WHO officials have said.

The industry often sponsors sporting events and pop festivals in Asia.

Leading cigarette companies such as British American Tobacco and Philip Morris have repeatedly denied they are targeting children.

Thai model

Mr Yach said a number of Asian countries were beginning to act on the problem, and Thailand was the venue for this year's World No Tobacco Day events because of its model anti-tobacco laws.

Man smoking a
"Bidi" cigarettes are very popular in India
Thailand has banned tobacco advertising and curtailed smoking in public places.

Mr Yach said Bangladesh had also responded well, banning tobacco advertising in most media, while India has recently called for more action.

He said the WHO was particularly concerned about the relative lack of progress in Japan, where the government owns Japan Tobacco, a leading tobacco company.

"That's a real recipe for policy conflict," he said, adding that smoking rates in Japan were one of the highest in the world at 60%.

The WHO is planning to hold public hearings in Geneva in October ahead of talks to draw up a global treaty on tobacco control. The treaty will look at global marketing by tobacco companies.

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See also:

25 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Thailand bans smoking on TV
27 Nov 98 | Asia-Pacific
Asian 'tobacco holocaust'
07 Jan 00 | South Asia
Anti-tobacco drive in India
19 Nov 98 | Health
China's cigarette threat
22 Oct 98 | Smoking
WHO declares war on tobacco firms
15 Oct 99 | Americas
Timeline: The tobacco war
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