Friday, February 15, 2008

Whacking the Weed

As anti-tobacco warriors claim success in banning public smoking in places as likely as Berkeley, California and as unlikely as Paris, France, the Economist reports this week that "the number of smokers in China, India and other developing countries is continuing to grow, as addiction spreads faster than information." The World Health Organization's 2005 Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, with an impressive 168 signatories and 152 States Parties, represents a major step forward in globalizing anti-smoking measures, but is it enough? Apparently not, according to the WHO's Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2008, which estimates that, each year, over 5 million deaths worldwide are related to tobacco use. Noting that the share of cigarette production and consumption in developing countries rose from just over 40% in the early 1970s to 70% in 2004, the Economist reports that the tobacco industry is using aggressive tactics (e.g. targeting women) to get the world's poor addicted to smoking before governments can take action. And what should these governments be doing? The WHO lays out six action steps, including imposing sweeping smoking bans (which currently cover only 5% of the world's population), implementing programs to assist smokers to quit, mandating large, "grotesque" pictorial warnings on cigarette packets, and raising taxes (which would have an even greater impact on tobacco consumption in the developing world). While the first few battles against big tobacco have been won in a few developed nations, it's important to remember that this is a global war that must look beyond state borders or risk becoming a game of "whack-a-mole."

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