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Wednesday, 2 August, 2000, 11:20 GMT 12:20 UK
A global smoking battle
lighting up
The tobacco companies are looking for new markets
The diseases linked to smoking have never been better documented - but the number of cigarettes produced is at an all-time high.

Anti-smoking drives in many Western countries have paid dividends - only this week, figures released in the UK showed lung cancer deaths down by a half, mainly due to people giving up.

However, for everyone that gives up, there appear to be a more potential customers for the tobacco firms.

US Department of Agriculture figures suggested that the number of cigarettes made in 1999 worldwide was well over five trillion, and rising steadily.

The World Health Organisation estimates that there are more than a billion smokers in the world, the vast majority living in developing countries.

There are tough controls on advertising and marketing in the developed world, but elsewhere, with a few exceptions, the situation resembles a free-for-all.

Global treaty

Anti-smoking campaigners are pinning their hopes on the swift passage of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which might even include a global advertising ban.

Negotiations on this treaty are expected to start in October, and this week's report detailing alleged "dirty tricks" by the tobacco industry against the WHO may serve to counter opposition.

cigarette production
Trillions of cigarettes are produced every year
The tactics used by some firms to promote their products would certainly raise eyebrows in Western societies used to not seeing overt or pushy marketing.

And it is clear that the advertising works - when the major tobacco firms entered the South Korean tobacco market in the 1980s, advertising spend reportedly increased by more than 600% in three years.

WHO figures suggest smoking rates among male South Korean teenagers rose from 18% to 30% in on year, while among female teenagers the rise was from 2% to 9%.

For example, in Sri Lanka, British American Tobacco (BAT) - one of the world's biggest firms - sponsored a "Golden Tones Disco".

Young women were hired, clothed in shimmering golden saris and placed at the entrance, offering every young person arriving a free Benson and Hedges cigarette and telling them to smoke it.

In China - viewed as a key future market by major tobacco firms - BAT also sponsored a regular disco in Beijing.

Miniskirted women

The Washington Post reported that "slender Chinese women" in miniskirts were handing out cigarettes to dancers.

Emma Must, international campaign manager for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH): "You are seeing quite aggressive marketing strategies.

"This is why everybody is calling for an international treaty on tobacco control."

Although the treaty could be in place before 2003, she said she was expecting the tobacco industry to mobilise opposition to it before then.

"I think it's extremely unlikely that the whole thing could be derailed, but a lot of people are worried that it's not going to be a cakewalk."

Certainly there is a great deal at stake while the Western tobacco market continues to decline.

There are not only huge untapped markets for the major firms in various developing countries, particularly in Africa, but in many countries, the proportion of women smoking is significantly lower than men.

The World Bank estimates that by 2030, tobacco is expected to be the single biggest cause of death worldwide, accounting for about 10m deaths a year.

More than 70% of these, it says, will be in the developing world.

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See also:

15 Oct 99 | Americas
The US tobacco wars
16 Mar 00 | Crossing continents
China lights up
08 Apr 00 | Americas
Smokers win record pay-out
17 Mar 00 | C-D
Lung Cancer
11 Jan 99 | The Company File
Tobacco giants in 13bn merger
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