Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Tobacco's Deadly Legacy

May 31, 2012

By the end of the 21st century, more than one billion people are expected to die from illnesses related to tobacco use primarily in low to middle income countries. Currently, tobacco causes the deaths of 6 million people every year through cancer, respiratory illnesses, childhood diseases and more.

Today is "World No Tobacco Day", a day to recognize the harm tobacco has caused to millions of people around the world. It causes death, disease, and poverty. But it's also a day, says the WHO (World Health Organization), to call attention to the behavior of the tobacco industry. In particular, this year is about the ways in which the industry stands in the way of ensuring policies are in place to protect the health of people around the world--tobacco industry interference.

I remember the days in the United States where smoking was permitted on airplanes (you know, in the "smoking section" because smoke abides by sections), in restaurants, and when smoking in the car with the windows rolled up was no big deal. A lovely ride through the country, in a cloud of smoke. But, of course, it is a big deal. We know that now. And so does the tobacco industry, of course.

The WHO is calling on the industry to stop interfering with efforts to ensure strong tobacco control policies and wants the industry to (among other things): stop "manipulating public opinion" when it comes to trying to win over the public with intiatives aimed to improve the lives of young people or investments in other social causes; and to end the intimidation through threats of legal action when governments attempt to pass policies to regulate tobacco use.

For the foundation's part, our office in Beijing, China has worked hard to spread the word across the country with the awareness campaign 被吸烟,我不干 (say no to forced smoking). You can see Bill Gates and advocates across the country participating in the campaign on the foundation's Tencent Weibo and Sina Weibo channels. China is the largest tobacco-producing and -consuming country in the world. Today, China's Ministry of Health released the first ever report detailing the dangers of smoking.

We'll continue to support efforts which reduce the number of deaths and diseases due to tobacco use - especially in developing countries.

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