Director-General

Conference of the Parties

Unveiling of the death clock

International Conference Centre Geneva
6 February 2006

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for being with us today. And thank you to Mary Asunta for her inspiring words.

Usually when we think of health clocks we think of positive events: babies being born or achievement of targets.

This grim clock, the "death clock" is tracking how many people die from tobacco use. It is tracking time slipping away from all those who have not yet stopped smoking.

Every 6.5 seconds, a tobacco user dies. Six years ago, when the clock started, that interval was 8 seconds. Tobacco's death toll has accelerated. It will kill nearly 5 million people this year.

Tobacco is the only consumer product which kills when used as intended by its manufacturers. And it kills on a massive scale. 100 million people in the twentieth century. Unchecked, it is predicted to kill one billion in this century.

These numbers are hard to take in. There is a saying that one death is a tragedy but one million is a statistic. Not to us. Behind every lost life there is a story: an unfinished story, an unfinished hope. For example, my own father died of a smoking-related condition when I was 14 years old. I saw the suffering caused.

Many countries have already taken dramatic action to inhibit tobacco use. As an organization, we have adopted the first global public health treaty - the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. We will continue to be vigilant and to take the lead on all aspects of tobacco control.

When the Conference of the Parties opens shortly, it will push the pace of tobacco control still further.

That life-saving goal is what we, in this international gathering, are uniting to achieve.

Thank you.

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Director-General's speech to the Conference of the Parties

Conference of the Parties