Top UN officials on Friday urged governments across the world to ban all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, so as to help curb a major global health threat that kills some six million people a year.
"Tobacco use is one of the top threats to human health, killing half the people who use it," said UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon while marking the World No Tobacco Day, observed annually on May 31.
The Day is intended to encourage a 24-hour period of abstinence from all forms of tobacco consumption across the globe, as well as to draw global attention to the widespread prevalence of tobacco use and its negative health effects, which currently lead to 5.4 million deaths worldwide annually.
Member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) created the Day in 1987. In the past 26 years, the Day has been met with both enthusiasm and resistance across the globe from governments, public health organizations, smokers, growers, and the tobacco industry.
"When we reduce people's exposure to tobacco advertising, we reduce the likelihood that they will start to use tobacco," Ban said.
Tobacco is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases.
The WHO estimates that by 2030, tobacco use will kill more than eight million people every year, with four out of five such deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries.
Every year on May 31, the WHO and partners everywhere mark the World No Tobacco Day, highlighting the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocating for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption.
The theme for this year's World No Tobacco Day is "Ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship."
Most users start consuming tobacco before the age of 20, making young people a key target of tobacco advertising. Worldwide, 78 percent of young people aged 13-15 report regular exposure to some form of tobacco promotion.
"Tobacco use ranks right at the very top of the list of universal threats to health, yet is entirely preventable," said WHO Director-general Margaret Chan. "Governments must make it their top priority to stop the tobacco industry's shameless manipulation of young people and women, in particular, to recruit the next generation of nicotine addicts."
Despite the effectiveness of comprehensive bans, only six percent of the world population were fully protected from exposure to the tobacco industry's advertising, promotion and sponsorship tactics in 2010.
WHO research has shown that bans on tobacco advertising are one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, with countries that have already introduced these measures showing an average seven- percent reduction in tobacco consumption.
While bans are highly effective, the WHO stressed that legislation needs to be comprehensive, as there are multiple ways to target potential smokers including placement of tobacco products in films and television, engaging trendsetters to influence people, handing out branded products that attract youth, and using media such as pro-smoking mobile applications and online discussions with tobacco industry members posing as consumers to sway conversations.
The WHO's report on the global tobacco epidemic 2011 shows that only 19 countries have reached the highest level of achievement in banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and that more than one third of countries have minimal or no restrictions at all.
Ban and Chan both urged countries to live up to their commitments under the WHO Framework Conventions on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and implement comprehensive bans on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
The FCTC requires that a comprehensive ban should be introduced on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship within five years of the entry into force of the Framework Convention for a specific party. Adopted in 2003, the FCTC now has 176 parties, covering 88 percent of the world population.