Tobacco could claim 1bn lives by 2100

In collaboration with the Press Association

The number of people killed by tobacco every year is set to double over the next few decades unless urgent action is taken, a new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned.

Tobacco is a risk factor for six of the eight leading causes of death in the world - heart disease, stroke, lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), tuberculosis and lung cancer.

Estimates suggest that 100 million people died worldwide as a result of tobacco in the 20th century and the figure could rise to one billion in the 21st century, with the current death rate standing at 5.4 million per year.

However, experts point out that the trend could be reversed if government leaders take steps to end the tobacco epidemic.

In a foreword to the report, Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, writes: "We hold in our hands the solution to the global tobacco epidemic that threatens the lives of one billion men, women and children during this century.

"The cure for this devastating epidemic is dependent not on medicines or vaccines, but on the concerted actions of government and civil society."

The report authors note that governments collect more than US$200 billion (£102 billion) in tobacco taxes every year, but only a tiny fraction of this (less than one fifth of one per cent) is spent on tobacco control.

They also note that no single nation fully implements all key tobacco control measures, and that just five per cent of the world's population live in countries where any of the key measures are used.

The WHO has now published the MPOWER package - a list of six policies which it claims can counter the tobacco epidemic and reduce the number of deaths from smoking-related illnesses.

These are: monitoring tobacco use and prevention policies; protecting people from tobacco smoke; offering help to quit smoking; warning about the dangers of tobacco; enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and raising taxes on tobacco.

Dr Chan, who launched the report at a news conference in New York, said: "While efforts to combat tobacco are gaining momentum, virtually every country needs to do more.

"These six strategies are within the reach of every country, rich or poor and, when combined as a package, they offer us the best chance of reversing this growing epidemic."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also spoke at the launch, described the report as "revolutionary".

"No country fully implements all of the MPOWER policies and 80 per cent of countries don't fully implement even one policy," he said.

The mayor concluded: "While tobacco control measures are sometimes controversial, they save lives and governments need to step up and do the right thing."