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World No Tobacco Day 2004 - 31 May
Tobacco and poverty: a vicious circle

Dr LEE Jong-wook, WHO Director-General's message

This is the 18th year that countries around the world join WHO in celebrating World No Tobacco Day. Thanks to great effort over the years, the harm tobacco does is now well known, and many countries have taken effective measures to curtail its use.

Globally, however, someone still dies every 6.5 seconds of a tobacco-related disease, and tobacco consumption is still rising in several parts of the world. This is occurring mostly in developing countries, adding significantly to their burden of disease and poverty. The World Bank estimates that in high-income countries up to 15% of the health care budget is spent on dealing with tobacco-related diseases. Within countries, tobacco consumption is inversely related to the socioeconomic level: it goes up as the standard of living goes down. Higher smoking prevalence means that it is the poorer who bear more of the burden of both the health costs and the economic costs of tobacco.

I urge everyone to think of how we can help to break the vicious circle of the poor consuming tobacco more, and tobacco consumption increasing poverty. Everyone can contribute to curtailing the production and use of tobacco products.

Last year, WHO's 192 Member States took a decisive step by adopting the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Its provisions establish the directions policies can take to reduce the damage tobacco does to health and to economies. So far, 118 countries and the European Community have signed the Convention, and 16 have ratified it.

Countries should lose no time in signing and ratifying the Convention in order to move forward in taking strong coordinated tobacco control measures. I urge all that have not yet done so to take this step as soon as they can.

Once the Framework Convention comes into force — 90 days after its 40th ratification — it will become a powerful means of controlling this entirely unnecessary threat to health and welfare. We will need enthusiasm, persistence and political commitment to ensure that the Convention enters into force and is implemented within countries. By helping to control the tobacco epidemic we will be contributing to higher standards of living and of health worldwide.

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Fadéla Chaib
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