GENEVA, May 29 (Xinhua) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) called on Wednesday for countries to ban all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship to help reduce the number of tobacco users, especially keeping young people from being addicted.
As the May 31 World No Tobacco Day is approaching, Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO's Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases department, said most tobacco users start their deadly drug dependence before the age of 20.
"Banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship is one of the best ways to protect young people from starting smoking as well as reducing tobacco consumption across the entire population," he said.
Research showed that about one third of youth experimentation with tobacco occurs as a result of exposure to tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Worldwide, 78 percent of young people aged 13 to 15 reported regular exposure to some form of tobacco advertising, according to the WHO.
Bettcher said that targeting "women and children in developing countries" is the "last frontier" of the tobacco industry.
He warned that the tobacco industry has been finding new tactics to target potential smokers, including handing out free cigarettes, using online and new media, and placement of tobacco products and brands in films and television.
"That is why the ban has to be complete in order to be fully effective," he said.
Armando Peruga, program manager of WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative, told Xinhua that there are some forms of advertising or promotion by the tobacco industry which are dubious, difficult to prove, but there are still many things that governments can do without harming the freedom of expression.
WHO's report on the global tobacco epidemic 2011 showed that only 19 countries have reached the highest level of achievement in banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, while more than one third of countries have minimal or no restrictions at all.
According to the "2012 Global Progress Report on Implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)", 83 countries have reported that they have introduced a comprehensive ban of all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
Tobacco kills up to half its users. Currently, it kills nearly six million people every year and the WHO estimated that it will kill more than eight million by 2030.