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Charities launch global war on tobacco

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by Cancer Research UK | News

17 February 2003

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Cancer Research UK and the American Cancer Society – the world’s two biggest cancer charities – today launch details of a powerful transatlantic alliance to help smoke out the global threat of tobacco, killer of five million people a year.

On the eve of the final round of inter-governmental talks on an international convention for tobacco control, the charities will announce a series of measures designed to help stem the rise of smoking in the developing world.

At a special press briefing, leading experts from both organisations and from the International Union Against Cancer (UICC) will also express alarm that US politicians are not following the lead of the country’s cancer experts.

While Britain has been strongly supportive of a worldwide ban on the promotion of tobacco, the US Government has repeatedly blocked the measure.

As smoking rates decline across the developed world, the tobacco industry is aggressively targeting developing nations, causing an unprecedented rise in smoking-related deaths in Africa, Asia and South America.

To help developing countries counter the tobacco crisis, Cancer Research UK and the American Cancer Society are providing funding and support for a range of new initiatives.

The charities will begin by offering grants to experienced anti-smoking campaigners in twelve developing nations, two in each of the six World Health Organisation zones, to provide advice and technical support for tobacco awareness programmes. The grants will be administered and distributed by the UICC, which represents cancer organisations in 87 countries, including many developing nations.

It is also likely that governments and anti-smoking campaigners will require technical assistance to implement anti-smoking legislation, which can otherwise easily be sidelined by the powerful tobacco lobby.

David Zacks, Chairman of the American Cancer Society, says: “At the moment, many developing nations lack the resources or experience to take on the propaganda machine of the tobacco industry.

“The alliance with Cancer Research UK will allow us to pool our resources to provide funds, technical support, expertise and advice for developing nations to use in the war against smoking. We also hope to learn from the British experience of successfully lobbying politicians, in order to persuade the US government to move on  tobacco advertising.”

Baroness Hayman, Chairman of Cancer Research UK, says: “Last week’s advertising ban was a great step forward for controlling tobacco in Britain, but we also have a duty to do all we can to help countries in the developing world, in order to limit what is already becoming a devastating epidemic of smoking related death.”

Dr John Seffrin, President of the UICC, says: “These funds, and the accompanying offers of policy advice, will make a real difference to countries in the developing world which are struggling to contain the tobacco threat. On current trends, the number of deaths from smoking related diseases will double to 10 million by 2030, so it’s essential we act now to stop such a disaster from happening.”

While Cancer Research UK and the American Cancer Society are excited by the new alliance, both charities are worried that progress will be undermined by failure to reach a strong agreement between governments on an international agreement for controlling tobacco. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is due to be signed in May.

As the sixth and final round of talks on the Convention begins today in Geneva, plans to ban the promotion of tobacco worldwide are being blocked by three countries -the US, Germany and Japan – which claim an advertising ban would contravene rights to freedom of speech laid down in their constitutions.

Cancer Research UK’s Professor David Simpson, Director of the International Agency on Tobacco and Health, says: “There is only so much that charities can do, and if we’re serious about stopping people in the developing world from dying in unprecedented numbers from smoking, then we need a tough international agreement between governments.

“It seems incredible that the international community should continue to allow companies to actively promote a product which causes the premature deaths of half its users.”

Dr Derek Yach, Executive Director of the Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health cluster at the World Health Organisation, says: “If we’re going to successfully tackle the global threat from tobacco, we need governments and health organisations to be united in their efforts.

“Cancer Research UK and the American Cancer Society have admirably taken a lead in this regard, and I can only hope that the politicians also choose the path of international co-operation as they debate the final stages of the crucial Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.”