WHO Urges Stronger Bans on Smoking - Tobacco Also Blamed for Asthma Epidemic
> 5/29/2007 2:04:58 PM

The World Health Organization will celebrate World No Tobacco Day on Thursday, May 31st, marking a 19-year campaing to increase public awareness regarding the dangers of tobacco abuse. The WHO issued a public statement calling for countries to institute all-out bans on smoking in the workplace or at any enclosed public space, and this release coincided with a new, independent report singling out adult smoking habits as the basis for a several-decade-long spike in reported asthma cases.

Americans are reminded by on a regular basis of the dangers presented by tobacco, and the population has responded accordingly, as the reported number of households in which smoking is forbidden has risen from 43% to nearly 75% in the last decade alone. We have begun to understand that smoking hurts not only those who choose to indulge but all those who live, work and play with them. And yet, despite the fact that the smoking rate in America is barely half of what it was thirty years ago, one in five deaths in our country can still be traced back to tobacco, and conservative estimates place the yearly healthcare burden wrought by tobacco at $150 billion in the United States alone. Global statistics reflect the fact that the anti-smoking message has yet to reach much of the developed and developing world with the same ferocity, and in certain economically underprivileged areas such as the former Soviet Union, nearly three-quarters of the male population aged 25-34 currently smoke. In the Western Pacific Region, an area including Australia and much of Eastern Asia, two-thirds of adults smoke. Much of this high incidence of tobacco use may be attributed to lack of information on the subject - a surprising study "found that 60% of Chinese adults did not know that smoking can cause lung cancer while 96% were unaware it can cause heart disease."

The WHO, stating that research has confirmed tobacco to be the world's leading cause of preventable death and that there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke, recommended outlawing smoking in all work environments. They claim that the deaths of 200,000 citizens each year can be traced to the influence of smoke in the workplace. It only makes sense to force workers to step outside if they choose to light up, and those travelling on mass transit or eating in public places should demand a smoke-free environment. For business owners or critics concerned that various establishments will suffer under the ban, the city of New York reported more than three years ago that its bars and restaurants enjoyed periods of increased business and profits after the city instituted its 2003 smoking ban. It would seem that, for every smoker or libertarian irked by the laws forbidding indoor tobacco use, there are several more citizens grateful to be able to eat, drink or hear music without tobacco's unwanted influence.

A recent study sponsored by New York's Columbia University drew a clear line between the increased prevalence of smoking after WWII (particularly among  American women) and the rising number of young children diagnosed with asthma during the same period. From the 1960's to the 1990's, the incidence of childhood asthma rose threefold in the United States. Researchers found that the increase in asthma cases prefectly mirrored the growth in smoking rates. More than 15 million of our children are exposed to second-hand smoke every day, and 5 million under the age of 18 have been diagnosed with asthma. Cigarette smoking has seen a steady decline in the U.S. since its early-80's peak, but its ramifications continue to affect subsequent generations many of whose members chose not to smoke themselves.

For anyone who cares to investigate, the evidence of tobacco's deadly influence can be clearly demonstrated by an endless stream of information from any number of sources. The only issue for debate is how far we should go to regulate its use and protect those who choose not to subject themselves to its innumerable health risks. The WHO is hardly overstepping its authority in issuing these recommendations, and neither are the governments, local or national, who may decide to implement them. If anything, they're not going far enough.

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