Page last updated at 16:47 GMT, Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Passive smoking a 'global threat', WHO warns

A man smokes in an Istanbul shopping mall on 16 May

Almost 95% of the world's population is not protected by laws banning smoking, the World Heath Organisation says.

In its second major report on the "tobacco epidemic", the UN agency said second-hand or passive smoking killed nearly 600,000 people each year.

The WHO said seven new countries passed comprehensive smoke-free laws in 2008, taking the world total to a mere 17.

It warned that tobacco is still the leading preventable cause of death, killing five million people every year.

"Unless urgent action is taken to control the tobacco epidemic, the annual death toll could rise to eight million by 2030," the WHO report said.

In 2008, an additional 154 million people were newly covered by smoke-free laws enacted in seven countries - Colombia, Djibouti, Guatemala, Mauritius, Panama, Turkey and Zambia.

But that still meant only 5.4% of the world's people were protected, the report said.

The agency urged governments to implement the 2005 WHO framework convention on tobacco control, which 170 nations have signed.

The convention urges countries to adopt measures to prevent smoking - by offering people help to quit, enforcing bans on tobacco advertising and raising tobacco taxes - and to protect non-smokers from tobacco smoke.

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