Press Release WHO/42
28 May 1998
"GROWING UP WITHOUT TOBACCO"
WORLD NO-TOBACCO DAY 1998
The World Health Organization (WHO) issued today a strong warning on the occasion of World No-Tobacco Day 1998 (May 31), which this year is dedicated to children and is marked worldwide under the theme "Growing Up Without Tobacco".
Speaking at a press conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -- the world's largest exporter of tobacco leaf, but also home to an effective public health programme to control tobacco Dr Fernando Antezana, Deputy Director-General ad interim of WHO, stressed that "unless tough actions are taken immediately, the tobacco epidemic will prematurely claim the lives of about 250 million children and young people alive today".
In many countries, tobacco use is rising among young people, while the age of smoking initiation is declining, warned Dr Antezana. The majority of smokers begin while in their teenage years or earlier. However, if young people do not begin to use tobacco before the age of 20, they are unlikely to initiate use as adults.
Globally, about one-third of the adult population smokes. WHO also estimates that out of two smokers, who started in young age and continue smoking throughout their lives, one will ultimately be killed by a tobacco-related illness.
"Trends in young people's smoking must be reversed if we really care about the health of our children the most valuable asset in every country", said Dr José Serra, Brazil's Minister of Health. According to him, "with tobacco poised to become the leading cause of death in the world within two or three decades, policy-makers have a clear responsibility to create conditions for children to grow up without tobacco".
Scientists say there are a number of complex and interacting reasons why children and adolescents begin smoking. Often, they mistake smoking for an attribute of independence -- an image skilfully built by tobacco advertising and promotional activities, and incarnated in adults who smoke.
Although there is a global consensus to prevent young people from smoking, children around the world are receiving contradictory messages concerning tobacco. In many countries, smoking is considered normal social behaviour, tobacco products are inexpensive and easily accessible, and tobacco advertising is prolific.
"While curiosity and independence are natural parts of growing up, experimentation with tobacco products is not. Early use of tobacco products is purposeful and is the result of demand created by the tobacco industry. We fail as a society if we cannot protect our children from the harm and seduction of tobacco," said Michael Eriksen, Director of the United States Office on Smoking and Health.
Although the tobacco industry claims that it does not want young people to smoke, their own documents show a longstanding interest in young smokers. For their very survival, the tobacco industry needs to constantly recruit new smokers to replace those that die from smoking-related diseases. Those new smokers are most often teenagers.
According to WHO, in order to ensure that the health of children be effectively protected and promoted, tough decisions against tobacco are needed, including a total ban on tobacco advertising and the adoption of the international framework convention on tobacco control.
"As adults, we must stand up for the health of the world's children, even in the face of considerable opposition. It is time for all of us to make those critical decisions, which will truly allow our children to grow up without tobacco", said Dr Fernando Antezana, Deputy Director-General ad interim of WHO.
For further information, journalists can contact Igor Rozov, Health Communications and Public Relations, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (4122) 791 25 32. Fax (4122) 791 48 58. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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