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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 May, 2004, 23:48 GMT 00:48 UK
WHO urges stricter tobacco rules
By Ania Lichtarowicz
BBC health reporter

A Roma man lights up a cigarette in his hut in eastern Slovakia
The WHO says smoking and poverty are closely linked
The UN's health agency says the world's poorest people are suffering the biggest burden of tobacco use.

The World Health Organisation's warning came ahead of World No Tobacco Day on Monday.

It wants governments and individuals to accept smoking contributes to poverty through loss of productivity and income, as well as death and disease.

The WHO says a person dies every six-and-a-half seconds, and many more fall ill from tobacco use.

This places increasing pressure on health care and has a significant impact on economies, it says.

"The world cannot accept such easily preventable human and economic losses," director general Lee Jong-wook said in a statement.

Tobacco epidemic

About 84% of smokers live in developing countries - and it is there that the tobacco epidemic is still growing.

The theme for this year's World No Tobacco Day is "Tobacco and Poverty: A vicious circle".

The WHO says the two are closely linked.

Most small tobacco farmers live in poverty and many of them employ children, who work in the fields instead of attending school.

So although families may benefit from an increased income initially, there are no long-term benefits as these children grow up illiterate.

Instead of spending money on food, health care or education, smokers spend it on cigarettes.

There are also environmental and health dangers from using highly toxic pesticides.

The WHO says this vicious circle can be broken.

It is calling for more countries to come forward and sign the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which already has the support of 118 countries.

The landmark treaty requires countries to ban or impose tough restrictions on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion within five years.

It also lays down guidelines on health warnings to be carried on cigarette packets and recommends tax increases on tobacco products.

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