Tobacco Control Is Global Challenge, WHO Director Says

Washington, March 18, 1999--Tobacco control is a global challenge and a cultural struggle against tobacco companies that prey on adolescents to increase sales, WHO Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland said today in opening the International Policy Conference on Children and Tobacco.

"Tobacco burdens our health systems. It costs taxpayers money. It hampers the productivity of our economies. Tobacco obviously provides economic benefits to producers. But solid economic analysis clearly concludes that the costs of tobacco exceed by far its estimated economic benefits," she said.

In the keynote address at the conference, which brought together legislators, ministers of health, and other political leaders from more than 30 countries to identify key policies to cut tobacco use among children, Dr. Brundtland said: "We have evidence to show that positive results come from concerted action on several fronts: tobacco advertising bans, increases in taxation, and a high level of public awareness."

Dr. Brundtland said world leaders "should really worry" about the growth in tobacco consumption, adding, "Our main battlefield on children and tobacco is in that strange, exhilarating and often confusing landscape called adolescence. We must enter the discotheques, the schools and the sports arenas. In many countries, cigarettes are given out for free on the dance floors. We have to win these spaces back." Awareness, action, assistance and alliances are needed to "counter fiction with fact, we have to dispel ignorance with scientific evidence and we have to tackle inertia with the simple message that tobacco kills," she added.

Governments may face a backlash from decisive anti-tobacco action, but the political leadership "must be united and committed to take the battles," she said. Referring to tobacco production and employment, Dr. Brundtland said, "We are not attacking those who, by tradition or by lack of other suitable crops, grow tobacco in

Contact: Daniel Epstein
Pan American Health Organization

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