Press Releases 1999

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white_10x1p.jpg (1617 bytes) In englishEn français Press Release WHO/15
3 March 1999
white_10x1p.jpg (1617 bytes)


Tobacco is a killer and tobacco growers must separate their concern for their own livelihood from the public health impact of tobacco which kills 4 million people today and could kill up to 10 million annually by the late 2020s, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today.

The agency called on tobacco growers to back WHO's efforts to give the world its first public health treaty - the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). ''WHO is not against tobacco farmers, but as the world's premier health agency, WHO is committed to addressing the tobacco epidemic,'' Dr Derek Yach, head of WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI) told a delegation of the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA).

WHO Director General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland has identified global tobacco control as one of her major priorities. The proposed Framework Convention, the world's first multilateral convention focusing specifically on a public health issue, would deal with a range of tobacco-related issues but it would also ensure that individual countries are protected from the impact of multinational tobacco companies.

Richard Tate, President, ITGA, said tobacco growers worldwide, but especially in the developing countries, were concerned about WHO's global tobacco control initiative, adding that their concerns should not be confused with those of tobacco multinationals. He hoped that WHO would keep farmers' concerns firmly in focus during the negotiations.

WHO told the delegation that tobacco multinationals were shifting their focus to developing countries, which will account for 70% of the 10 million annual tobacco deaths by about 2020. ''WHO cannot simply stand by and count the dead,'' said Richard Peto, scientific advisor to TFI. The world's largest analytical study of tobacco deaths shows that, in China, smoking already accounts for 75,000 deaths a year – and this will rise to 3 million by the time today's young smokers reach middle age.

Dr Yach, who chaired a meeting between public health professionals and the ITGA in Zimbabwe in 1993, invited ITGA to work with WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Bank and other international agricultural agencies to explore long-term options for crop substitution. In the interim, a focus on the role of agriculture and trade policies, including subsidies that restrict access by poor countries to the global tobacco market, was needed.

ITGA was told that WHO, FAO and the World Bank agree that, based upon experience with narcotic control, efforts to reduce production will be ineffective without a reduction in demand.

WHO is exploring the possibility of establishing a high-level panel of economists and farmers to address long-term concerns of tobacco farmers. Seeking a multilateral approach to long-term options for crop substitution, WHO has begun preliminary talks with other UN agencies including FAO.

WHO has also started exploratory talks with international donor agencies to assist farmers during the period of transition from tobacco to other crops - this could occur two to three decades down the line when demand for tobacco could shrink as a result of good control measures.

Tate agreed with WHO that global tobacco control will not lead to any significant drop in consumption in the short and medium term. WHO recognizes that successful tobacco control will not reduce the need for tobacco in the medium term - the world's current 1.2 billion smokers could drop to between 800 million to one billion under good control measures. That would still leave a substantial demand for tobacco.

WHO urged the ITGA to distance itself from tobacco multinationals' attack WHO, FAO and the United Nations. Dr. Yach drew the attention of the farmers delegation to secrets documents made available after the Minnesota (US) trials which showed the ITGA in the early 1990's working with tobacco transnationals to ''split FAO/WHO", ''destroy crop substitution myths'', ''attack WHO'' and ''question WHO priorities, budget".

For further information, journalists can contact Gregory Hartl, Office of Press and Public Relations, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (41 22) 791 44 58. Fax (41 22) 791 48 58. E-Mail:

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