WHO urges complete tobacco ad ban to protect children

GENEVA (AFP) - The World Health Organisation said Friday that only a total ban on all forms of tobacco advertising can stop the "constantly mutating virus" of the marketing industry and protect vulnerable young people. The World No Tobacco Day will be observed on Saturday (today). Tobacco companies are using ever more sophisticated marketing techniques, including the promotion of non-tobacco items like clothing, or sponsorship of concerts and sporting events, to evade what restrictions are already in place, the WHO noted. "The tobacco industry employs predatory marketing strategies to get young people hooked to their addictive drug," said Douglas Bettcher, director of the WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative, on the even of World No Tobacco Day. These tactics are "very, very precisely focused on catching and snaring young people, in particular as replacement smokers for those who died or quit at an earlier age, so that they can continue to extract their profitability," Bettcher told journalists. Tobacco companies are particularly targeting the developing world, and especially young girls, as "fresh cannon fodder," he said.  "Comprehensive advertising bans do work, reducing tobacco consumption by up to 16 per cent in countries that have already taken this legislative step," Bettcher added. Only five per cent of the world's population is currently protected by comprehensive national smoke-free legislation, Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Bettcher noted. In a statement issued on the eve of the WHO-designated World No Tobacco Day in Manila, senior official of the body said half a billion young Asians are at risk from diseases associated with nicotine and denounced advertising directed at teenagers. "Youngsters are led to believe that certain types of cigarettes do not contain nicotine, when in fact they do," Asia-Pacific director Shigeru Omi said. He said the tobacco industry's marketing campaign targets half a billion young people in the Western Pacific "into trying their first stick." The WHO estimates that each day more than 3,000 people die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases in that region alone. Omi reiterated the UN agency's call for a total ban on tobacco advertising, saying partial bans merely allowed companies to shift resources from one promotional tactic to another. The WHO accused tobacco firms of "falsely associating use of their products with desirable qualities such as glamour, energy and sex appeal, as well as exciting outdoor activities and adventure." He said girls and young female adults were now a key focus of these campaigns. In the Philippines, four million youths smoke while two million more are exposed to smoking, health department official Yolanda Oliveros told the news conference. The young smokers include 1.8 million girls, said Oliveros, director of the National Centre for Prevention Disease Control.

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