MANILA, 31 May 2011 - The World Health Organization (WHO) today called on governments to pass and enforce national laws that will prevent premature deaths from tobacco-related diseases.

WHO said the tobacco epidemic kills nearly 6 million people worldwide each year, mostly from heart disease, stroke, cancer and emphysema. Tobacco-related deaths account for 63% of deaths from noncommunicable diseases in the world today. Passive or second-hand exposure to tobacco causes an estimated 600 000 deaths a year globally.

Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, said: "In our Region, it is estimated that close to half of all men smoke and half of all women and children are regularly exposed to the deadly toxins of second-hand smoke at home and in public places. This means that about 900 million people are regularly exposed and at high risk for tobacco-related disease. This has a significant impact not only on health but also on the economy of countries."

"The socio-economic cost of tobacco use to countries is a reason for alarm," Dr Shin said. Examples:

- Australia: the annual social cost of tobacco use to Australian society is estimated at AUD 31.5 billion in 2004/2005.
- China: About one million deaths per year attributable to tobacco use.
- The Republic of Korea: the total socioeconomic cost of smoking in 2007 was estimated at USD 6.1 billion.

"Governments must use the provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) as the basis for laws for a 100% ban on indoor smoking, comprehensive bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship, bans on sale to minors, graphic health warnings and higher prices and taxes for tobacco products," Dr Shin said. "These are simple policy measures that will save lives and will also result in billions of dollars saved by preventing diseases, productivity losses and deaths from tobacco use."

In observance of World No Tobacco Day on 31 May, WHO called on different stakeholders to take action in support of the WHO FCTC:

- For Parties to the WHO FCTC: Meet all your obligations under the treaty. Pass the necessary legislation, and then enforce it.
- For non-parties: Prioritize the health of your people by becoming a party to the WHO FCTC.
- For civil society and nongovernmental organizations: Strongly advocate for full implementation of the WHO FCTC.
- For the public: Demand that your governments fully comply with their obligations under the WHO FCTC.

WHO also announced awards for individuals who have made outstanding contributions to tobacco control and implementation in the past five years. The principal awardees for World No Tobacco Day 2011 in the Western Pacific Region are as follows:

Director-General's Special Recognition Award

Dr York Chow, Secretary for Food and Health, Hong Kong (China),

- for his leadership and political courage in driving Hong Kong's comprehensive tobacco control programme, which includes a ban on smoking in outdoor public places such as beaches, playgrounds, public transport facilities and outdoor escalators.

Director-General's Special Recognition Certificate

Dr Nicola Roxon, Minister for Health and Ageing, Australia

- for proposals to advance tobacco control and through the plain packaging of tobacco products in 2012. Ms Roxon's resolve, despite serious challenges from the tobacco industry, has already inspired political leaders in many countries to take strong, calibrated and decisive action on the tobacco industry's most noxious weapon: seductive brand advertising.