If current trends hold, tobacco will kill a billion people this century, 10 times the toll it took in the 20th century, WHO said, unless the countries take serious action to prevent it .
Critics of smoking ban argue that people are assuming that by putting one cigarette to your lips will immediately kill you. And if you sniff-up someone else's smoke only once, you cut your life expectancy by half; in other words it is all over, forget retiring you will just die at age 37.
"Tobacco is a defective product. It kills half of its customers," Douglas Bettcher, head of the WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative, said at the start of an international conference in Bangkok to draw up a master plan for the world to kick the habit.
"It kills 5.4 million people per year and half of those deaths are in developing countries. That's like one jumbo jet going down every hour," he said.
Tobacco accounts for one in five cancer deaths worldwide each year, according to two new reference guides that chart global tobacco use and cancer. Lung cancer remains the major cancer among the 10.9 million new cases of cancer diagnosed each year, according to the Cancer Atlas.
With smoking rates in many developing countries on the rise, particularly among teenagers, that annual death toll would rise to 8.3 million within the next 20 years.
Reducing tobacco use would have the greatest affect on global cancer rates, health officials said. Improving nutrition and reducing infection by cancer-causing viruses and bacteria could also cut rates dramatically.
We know with cancer, if we take action now, we can save 2 million lives a year by 2020 and 6.5 million by 2040, said Dr. Judith Mackay, a World Health Organization senior policy adviser.
If the governments introduced measures such as aggressive taxation, banning cigarette advertising and making offices and public places totally tobacco-free, smoking rates
could halve by 2050.
It's a completely preventable epidemic," Bettcher said, citing countries such as Singapore, Australia and Thailand where tough anti-smoking laws have helped people to quit.
Officials from 147 countries are attending the week-long conference, which is likely to agree on binding laws against cross-border tobacco advertising -- a move against events such as Formula One -- as well as tougher legislation against cigarette smuggling.
In Thailand, smoking rates have fallen from 30 percent in 1992 to around 18 percent, a decline health officials attribute to a ban on all domestic tobacco advertising 15 years ago.
"The most important medicines in tobacco control are: number one, increasing taxation; number two, bans on advertising; and number three, smoke-free public places," said Hatai Chitanondh of the Thailand Health Promotion Institute.
Besides agreeing laws on cross-border advertising and smuggling, the conference is also likely to issue guidelines for countries introducing legislation on "second-hand smoke" and "smoke-free" areas.
The new Cancer Atlas and updated Tobacco Atlas were released Monday at an International Union Against Cancer conference. The American Cancer Society published the two atlases with help from the Union, WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is an estimated 1.25 billion men and women smoke cigarettes now, according to the Tobacco Atlas.
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