MANILA, May 30 (Xinhua) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a comprehensive ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, saying that the tobacco companies' " aggressive marketing" has led to addiction killing at least 6 million people worldwide each year.
In a statement issued Thursday, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr. Shin Young-soo cited the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control as saying governments around the world "must comprehensively ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship."
"We must halt the tobacco industry's aggressive marketing of its products, which cause addiction, suffering and millions of deaths each year," he said in a statement released in line with the World No Tobacco Day that will be celebrated Friday, May 31.
Comprehensive bans, he said, should include point-of-sale (PoS) advertising because children are exposed to PoS advertising. Cigarettes are often sold near candy and other items marketed to children.
The WHO said comprehensive advertising ban is effective in discouraging people from smoking and to counteract "the deceptive and misleading nature of tobacco marketing campaigns."
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was enforced in 2005 and ratified by 176 countries that pledged to reduce demand and supply for tobacco products including: protecting people from exposure to tobacco smoke; counteracting illicit trade; banning advertising, promotion and sponsorship; banning sales to minors; putting large health warnings on packages of tobacco; increasing tobacco taxes and creating a national coordinating mechanism for tobacco control.
The existence of the global pact pushed its signatory governments to ban direct advertising of tobacco on national television. Some even ban one of the main forms of indirect advertising - product placement of tobacco brands in television and films.
In December 2012, Australia became the first country to sell cigarettes in standardized drab, dark brown packaging with large graphic health markings. Plain packaging, studies show, is an effective way to discourage cigarette smoking.
Despite such gains, cigarette smoking remains a major health problem. Globally, tobacco use is responsible for deaths due to tuberculosis, cancer, lung and heart diseases. Even non smokers are not spared, as over 600,000 non-smokers die from exposure to second-hand smoke.
The WHO said that unless urgent action is taken, the annual death toll could rise to more than 8 million by 2030.
The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), for its part, said advertising and promotions at PoS remains the "last important avenue for the tobacco industry."
SEATCA Director Bungon Ritthiphakdee said in Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Laos, tobacco companies lobbied hard to be allowed to still advertise cigarettes in and around convenient and grocery stores, road side stalls, and display cigarette packs at PoS.
"The tobacco companies lie when they say they don't advertise to children. Of course they do. Each time our children enter grocery stores and convenience stores they are exposed to the dangerous sales pitch of tobacco companies. We should be as vigilant about the activities by tobacco companies at POS as we have been about the mass media," Ritthiphakdee said.