WHO attacks passive smoking on No Tobacco Day

The WHO says young women are taking up smoking at an alarming rate Keystone

The World Health Organisation has called for a ban on smoking in public places as part of its efforts to mark World No Tobacco Day. This year's theme is the deadly effects of passive smoking

This content was published on May 31, 2001 minutes

As part of its global anti-tobacco campaign, the WHO has long warned of the ill health, disease and death associated with smoking. Now it's warning more forcibly than ever that breathing in second-hand smoke is harmful for everybody and that tobacco kills non-smokers too.

"Smokers have generally not realised the enormous impact they have on their spouses, on their family and particularly on children," said Derek Yach, WHO executive director of non-communicable diseases and mental health.

"For non-smoking adults, the impact is mainly seen in terms of lung cancer and heart disease. For children the problems range from higher rates of infections, chest infections, middle ear infections, asthma, glue ear, and a host of other conditions including pretty severe ones like sudden infant death syndrome."

There are three reasons why this passive smoking is such an important issue, said Jürg Hurter, director of the Swiss Foundation for Smokefree Air.

"First of all it's an inconvenience and a health danger for all those of us - 75 per cent of the population - who do not smoke including unborn children.

"Secondly it discourages those who smoke from quitting because people are smoking around them. And finally it gives children who don't smoke yet, the impression that smoking is the norm and it pushes them into the arms of the tobacco industry."

WHO estimates that four million people die every year from tobacco-related diseases -that's 11,000 victims every day - through cancer, bronchitis, emphysema and cardiovascular diseases. It warns that the toll could double by 2020.

"World No Tobacco Day has two principal goals," said Yach. "We want to make the point that tobacco is a major global threat. We also hope that individual smokers will use the day as a kind of target to quit."

An important part of this year's campaign is about non-smokers reclaiming the right to clean air.

"We have a law which says that non-smokers should not be submitted to smoke exposure at work," said chest physician, Jean-Pierre Zellweger, a consultant for the Swiss Lung Association.

" Unfortunately this law is not respected enough and I think one of our struggles in the coming months and years to see that it is enforced."

About 1.9 million people smoke in Switzerland. The Swiss Association for Smoking Prevention says one quarter of all Swiss smokers try to quit but only a small proportion succeed.

As one of the events to mark No Tobacco Day, smokers who quit between now and the end of June can take part in a competition to win SFr5,000.

by Vincent Landon

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