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UN Anti-Tobacco Measures Set to Save Millions by 2050

Jul 01, 2013 02:48 PM EDT

Tobacco control policies put in place in 41 countries between 2007 and 2010 will prevent an estimated 7.4 million premature deaths by 2050, according to a study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization.

The study is one of the first examine the effect of measures put forth by the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) since it was established in 2005, and demonstrates the success of the WHO FCTC in reducing tobacco use and, ultimately, saving lives.

"It's a spectacular finding that by implementing these simple tobacco control policies, governments can save so many lives," lead author David Levy, a professor of oncology at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, said in a press release.

The overarching goals in the policies included monitoring tobacco use and prevention policies, protecting people from tobacco smoke, offering help to those looking to quit tobacco use, warning people about the dangers of tobacco, enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and raising taxes on tobacco.

In order to determine the number of premature deaths that would be averted by 2050 through the implementation of one or more of these measures, the study's authors completed a modeling exercise focused on the 41 countries that had implemented the demand reduction measures at "the highest level of achievement."

Of the 41 countries, 33 had put in place one measure and the remaining eight had implemented more than one.

All told, these countries represented nearly 1 billion people or one-seventh of the world's population and a total of 290 million smokers as of 2007.

Furthermore, as Levy points out, the advantageous effects of the measures' success go beyond fewer tobacco-related deaths.

"In addition to some 7.4 million lives saved, the tobacco control policies we examined can lead to other health benefits such as fewer adverse birth outcomes related to maternal smoking, including low birth weight, and reduced health-care costs and less loss of productivity due to less smoking-related disease," he said.

Based on these findings, Dr. Douglas Bettcher, director of the department of non-communicable diseases at WHO, argues that if these high-impact tobacco control measures were implemented even more widely, millions more could be saved.

"Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in the world, with 6 million smoking-attributable deaths per year today, and these deaths are projected to rise to 8 million a year by 2030, if current trends continue," Bettcher said. "By taking the right measures, this tobacco epidemic can be entirely prevented."

As it stands, the WHO FCTC covers nearly 90 percent of the world's population, making it the most rapidly and widely embraced treaty in the history of the United Nations.

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