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Tobacco proliferates, broader regulation needed

As new forms of tobacco use proliferate, UN health agency calls for broader regulation

Confronting the rapid spread and growing variety of smoked and smokeless tobacco products and their increasing use by young people, the United Nations health agency today called for urgent and broader regulation of what is the leading preventable cause of death globally, killing 5 million people each year.

“Tobacco can kill in any guise, regardless of whether you smoke it, chew it or inhale it through a water pipe, and that is why all products containing tobacco need to be regulated immediately, in all forms, worldwide,” the Director of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) Tobacco Free Initiative, Yumiko Mochizuki-Kobayashi, said in a statement on the eve of this year’s World No Tobacco Day.

“We are faced with a unique public health challenge, as many tobacco products remain unregulated,” she added.

The variety of tobacco products manufactured and marketed worldwide continues to expand. New types of flavoured, “natural” or “organic” and roll-your-own cigarettes are often advertised and marketed with names and packaging that might mislead consumers into believing that they are less dangerous than conventional cigarettes.

Smokeless tobacco products, such as snus and snuff, previously popular in a limited number of countries, are being marketed heavily elsewhere to specific target groups.

These include women in cultures where it is not socially acceptable for them to smoke; young people presented with flavoured and milder-tasting “starter” products); and smokers as an alternative in smoke-free environments. At the same time, forms of non-cigarette smoking, such as water pipes, are gaining wider acceptance around the world, especially among young people in cafés and on college campuses.

Dr. Mochizuki-Kobayashi stressed the urgent need for countries to implement stricter regulation of all forms of tobacco products, as required by the global tobacco treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

Results from the Global Youth Tobacco Survey, a joint WHO and United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initiative, show that in many countries the prevalence of use of tobacco products other than cigarettes (11.2 per cent) among adolescents is higher than that of cigarette use (8.9 per cent). In addition, in many countries adolescent girls are reporting similar rates of tobacco use to adolescent boys.

This is different from adult data, which generally show higher rates for males than females. These findings suggest that countries should enforce comprehensive control programs focusing especially on girls, and on all forms of tobacco use.

Cigarettes are the only legal product that kills half of its regular users when consumed as intended by the manufacturer. But for all tobacco products, including cigarettes, information on ingredients and toxin deliveries remains inadequate. This gap needs to be filled with appropriate country-level regulation and further research, WHO said.

Tobacco use is the cause of 90 per cent of lung cancer cases and is linked to many other types such as cervical or kidney cancer, as well as emphysema, bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory diseases. Health risks also include oral, throat and neck cancer, as well as heart attacks, stroke, other cardiovascular diseases and infertility.

Tobacco use continues to expand most rapidly in the developing world, where half of tobacco-related deaths occur. By 2020, if current trends continue, 7 out of every 10 tobacco-related deaths will be in the developing world.

“Tobacco use is the major contributor to what is now a global chronic disease epidemic,” Catherine Le Galès-Camus, WHO’s Assistant Director-General, Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health, said. “Regulating all forms of tobacco products cannot be delayed. It is vital to any effective tobacco control programme, and a must if we are to control this epidemic.”

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