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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 15:51 GMT
WHO offers help to sue tobacco firms
Legal action has been launched against tobacco companies
Countries which want to take tobacco giants to court over the death and injury toll of cigarettes can now get advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO is offering its expertise to encourage more states to take legal action.

It will offer technical assistance, document analysis and help gather evidence from other countries.

The body will even consider supporting international litigation against tobacco companies, it said.

There have already been successful cases in the US and India.

The new proactive approach to suing tobacco companies accompanies the launch of "Towards Health with Justice", a report which encourages greater use of the courts.

Litigation, said the WHO, could "change the behaviour" of tobacco companies, as well as yielding compensation for those made ill by tobacco use.

Heavy toll

The WHO says that tobacco-related disease kills eight people every minute - and that 10m people will be dying every year by 2030.

Douglas Blanke, the report's author: "Litigation is not for everyone.

Tobacco industry tactics constitute the single greatest hurdle on the road to tobacco control

Derek Yach, WHO
"It has to be handled with great care and discipline but its power is so great that it simply must be implemented into the global approach to tobacco control."

At present, governments rely principally on taxation, advertising bans and public health messages to restrict the growth of smoking.

Derek Yach, the WHO's executive director of non-communicable diseases, said: "Progress has been thwarted by a tobacco industry seeking new and younger tobacco users.

"Tobacco industry tactics constitute the single greatest hurdle on the road to tobacco control."

Treaty negotiations

The WHO is pushing for a tough international treaty on tobacco control, with restrictions on marketing, advertising and sponsorship.

The 191 members of the organisation will debate the issue until the end of the week, and the treaty itself is expected to be completed by May 2003.

See also:

19 Nov 98 | Health
China's cigarette threat
04 Mar 02 | Health
Calls for 'safer' cigarettes
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