Tobacco Kills 7M per Year, Wreaks Environmental Havoc

Each year on May 31, Papua New Guinea joins the World Health Organisation (WHO) to promote World Tobacco Day.

In a report released ahead of World No Tobacco Day on Wednesday, WHO warned that the annual death toll of seven million people had jumped from four million at the turn of the century, making tobacco the world's single biggest cause of preventable death.

It drew up a landmark treaty in 2005, now ratified by 179 countries, that calls for a ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, and taxes to discourage use.

"Tobacco threatens us all", WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan said.

In addition to the health and economic costs linked to smoking, the WHO report for the first time delved into the environmental impact of everything from tobacco production to the cigarette butts and other waste produced by smokers.

"Tobacco exacerbates poverty, reduces economic productivity, contributes to poor household food choices, and pollutes indoor air", she said.

"These deaths mean the loss of breadwinners for so many families too", Action on Smoking and Health Foundation Thailand secretary-general Prof Dr Prakit Vathesatogkit said at an event marking World No Tobacco Day, which falls tomorrow. "From start to finish, the tobacco life cycle is an overwhelmingly polluting and damaging process".

Tobacco use also brings an economic cost: World Health Organization estimates that it drains more than $1.4 trillion (1.3 trillion euros) from households and governments each year in healthcare expenditures and lost productivity, or almost two percent of the global gross domestic product.

In order to control pest or disease outbreaks in tobacco plants, large quantities of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and fumigants are required.

Vast quantities of wood are burned to cure tobacco leaves, contributing to deforestation.

On a positive note, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has commended Thailand's recently passed Tobacco Products Control Act, which imposes stricter control on the sale of cigarettes.

Tobacco waste contains over 7,000 toxic chemicals that poison the environment, including human carcinogens, it added.

He said all countries are encouraged to ensure that strong and effective tobacco control measures are implemented as a part of their Sustainable Development Agenda. "Of all major crops, tobacco is one that requires the least crop protection agents".

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