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WHO Announces Regional Health Awards

30 May 2002

WHO Announces Regional Health Awards

Cambodia's national football team, a government unit in a Pacific island, a health council in New Zealand, and a badminton coach and a sports administrator from China have won health awards from the World Health Organization's Western Pacific Region*.

The awards recognize efforts to promote tobacco-free sports. They mark World No Tobacco Day on May 31, which has the theme this year of "Tobacco-Free Sports, Play it Clean!"

WHO is campaigning to clean sports of all tobacco advertising and sponsorship and to get sports bodies to implement smoke-free policies. All the evidence shows that the tobacco industry's powerful marketing, which reaches most stadiums in the Region, encourages children to start smoking. Currently, one in five young teens smokes worldwide; tens of thousands more start smoking every day.

In presenting these five health awards, WHO is acknowledging the leadership shown in creating tobacco-free sports by the nominated organizations and individuals.

The award winners are:

 Cambodia's national football team, for promoting tobacco-free sports and for not accepting tobacco sponsorship, a remarkable move in a country where tobacco advertising is highly lucrative and pervasive.

 Kiribati Ministry of Health, Health education unit ? for seeking to change the strong cultural use of tobacco, most notably in getting sports equipment to replace tobacco in the traditional gift exchange, mweaka.

 New Zealand's Health Sponsorship Council ? for replacing tobacco sponsorship of sport and for helping to promote tobacco-free sports.

 Mr Zhang Faqiang, Deputy Administrator, State Sport General Administration of China, for efforts to institute tobacco control within China's sports administration and for his involvement in anti-smoking groups.

 Mr Li Yongpo, Head Coach of China's national badminton team, for his ardent anti-smoking campaign that has reached into the team's training centres and for his refusal to participate in tobacco promotion.

"The award winners have tried to kick tobacco out of sports," said WHO's Western Pacific Regional Director Dr Shigeru Omi. "In doing so, they have made a contribution towards health."

The Cambodian national football team and New Zealand's Health Sponsorship Council have demonstrated that sports can say "no" to tobacco money. Two Chinese sporting figures, Zhang Faqiang and Li Yongpo, have shown that individuals do make a difference. And the Pacific island of Kiribati has shown that old habits don't have to die-hard, culture can be changed to become more healthy.

"These award winners show that the efforts of a single person or organization can go a long way in the battle against tobacco," said Dr Harley Stanton, from WHO's Tobacco-Free Initiative in the Western Pacific Region.

Tobacco is the world's leading killer. Every half a minute, it kills someone in WHO's Western Pacific Region, which covers East Asia and the Pacific. By 2030, smoking will kill one in six people worldwide, a toll that will exceed that from AIDS, tuberculosis, automobile accidents and homicide combined.

Despite the huge health toll, tobacco sponsorship in sports is at a peak, involving hundreds of millions of dollars every year. By linking tobacco with sports, the industry is linking a product which kills with activities that are healthy, exciting, and associated with youth. There are still limited regulations against tobacco advertising and even less control on sponsorship in the Region.

However, through the efforts of anti-tobacco campaigners, the links between sports and tobacco are slowly being broken.

The Indian national cricket team, Viet Nam's football team and South African cricket have all recently ended sponsorship by tobacco companies. They demonstrate that sports can do without tobacco money.

Australia ended all tobacco sponsorship in 1996. Since then, sponsorship revenues have doubled to $700 million annually in 2000, a figure that does not even include the 2000 Olympics.

Leading sports organizations are also supporting WHO's tobacco-free sports campaign, such as the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the International Olympic Committee.

This year's 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan is tobacco-free, all seated areas in the stadium are smoke-free and there is no tobacco sponsorship. The kick-off on May 31 coincides with WHO's World No Tobacco Day.


Ø Cambodian National Football Team

The team volunteered to be part of a national programme to promote tobacco-free sports, with supporting posters and video spots. The team itself is non-smoking and free of tobacco sponsorship. In a country where tobacco is a $50 million business and tobacco advertising is endemic, (making up about half of all street advertising), the team is setting an excellent example to others.

Ø The Health Sponsorship Council of New Zealand

HSC was set up in 1990 to promote health and to replace tobacco sponsorship. It undertakes a large number of sponsorships each year with its Smokefree brand.

It has worked with sports associations and clubs to produce smoke-free sports, and has worked to make netball, surfing, karate and rugby smoke-free. It has been very successful in promoting a smoke-free culture.

Other activities include drawing up a comprehensive guide for sports clubs, setting up an 0800 free phone line, producing branded merchandise and choosing role models for the young. HSC serves as an excellent model for other countries to follow.

Ø Ministry of Health, Kiribati

In this Pacific nation, there is a tradition of giving gifts, known as mweaka, at community events. All visitors also traditionally offer gifts to village elders to signify goodwill. In the past, cigarettes were popular as mweaka.

The Ministry of Health, working with WHO, began a programme which encouraged sports equipment to replace tobacco as mweaka. Soccer balls are now the gift of choice over tobacco. Reducing the cultural and social acceptability of smoking, a strong cultural habit, is an important step in the fight against tobacco. The efforts of this Pacific island also show that old habits can be broken.

Ø Mr Zhang Faqiang, Deputy Administrator, China's State Sport General Administration

An enthusiastic supporter of tobacco control, Mr Zhang has long been active in the Chinese Association on Smoking and Health (CASH), serving as its vice-president since 1990. He has helped promote a ban on smoking in public places and has emphasized tobacco control within the State Sport General Administration. This year, he helped organize a newsletter on smoke-free sports in China. He has also encouraged athletes and coaches to become role models for tobacco control.

Ø Mr Li Yongpo, Head Coach, Chinese National Badminton Team

A coach for one of the most popular sports in China, Mr Li is noted for producing a number of world champions in badminton. He is also noted as an advocate for the campaign against tobacco. He has banned smoking in public places such as training centres and stadiums and forbids his own athletes to smoke. He has also refused to promote tobacco or appear in any tobacco advertising. His own rule on smoking is, "don't smoke, don't give cigarettes to others and advise smokers to quit".

*The 37 countries and areas comprising the WHO Western Pacific Region are: American Samoa, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Cook
Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Kiribati, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Macao (China), Malaysia, Marshall
Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Mongolia, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea,
Philippines, Pitcairn Islands, Republic of Korea, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, and Wallis and Futuna.

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