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Gates launches anti-smoking campaign; India on focus

July 24, 2008 12:09 IST

Taking head-on cigarette giants that are aggressively targeting the developing countries, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg have jointly pledged $500 million for a massive anti-smoking campaign with special focus on India and China.

A world without tobacco 'is a world in which people live longer and have happier lives,' Bloomberg, New York Mayor who has a fortune of $16 billion, said at a joint press conference with the Microsoft founder Gates.

They said the money would go to anti-smoking groups working with governments to curb the consumption of tobacco and related products, including World Health Organisation and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The global tobacco market is expected to rise to 4 billion by 2012 and the campaign against 'global tobacco epidemic' comes at a time when number of smokers in the US is decreasing and American multinationals are looking for markets for cigarettes abroad especially in the developing nations.

Bill and Malinda Foundation will donate $125 million to the campaign while Bloomberg will contribute $250 million, apart from the $125 million he pledged earlier.

Two most populous countries India and China need special attention, said Gates, who is worth $58 billion and stepped down as full time executive of Microsoft in June.

But China is more difficult as the government owns cigarette manufacturing companies and draws revenue from them, Bloomberg, who is a former smoker, added.

They called for raising taxes on tobacco and its products to make them out of the reach of the poor people, banning cigarette advertisement, creating smoke-free spaces and curbing exhibition of cigarette smoking heroes in movies as they tend to become role models for teenagers.

"We do not want the modern-day heroes to be cigarette smoking," Bloomberg said.

China currently is estimated to have 350 million smokers or one-third of all smokers worldwide.

However, they agreed that Beijing decision to ban smoking in sports venues, buses and parks during the Olympic is a step in the right direction on which they can build.

It has to be impressed on Beijing that the cost of society is much more than the revenue and profits it draws from cigarette manufacturing.

If nothing is done, they said, around one billion people would die by the end of the century of diseases related to tobacco consumption which also increases the severity of the other ailments.

Bloomberg was instrumental in banning smoking in public places, bars and restaurants in New York City despite severe criticism and won a second term in 2005.

Smoking is one epidemic which does not require costly discovery of new vaccines or medicines but only political and individual will and involvement by anti-smoking groups especially in poor countries where statistic show 80 per cent deaths would occur by 2030, they said.

Currently, half of the deaths occur in the developing nations. One reason is that the number of smokers is decreasing in developed nations and increasing developing nations.

Bloomberg said the highest number of tobacco-related deaths occur in 30-60 age group and when the bread winner dies, the whole family suffers.

Both said what is needed is educating people on the devastating effects of smoking not only to themselves but also the families and the society which has to deal with those who fall sick.

Referring to his experience in New York City, Bloomberg said increasing tax on  cigarettes makes them out of the reach of teenagers. Since he had done that, the smoking rate among the youngsters has come down significantly.

Besides, ban on smoking in public places had reduced overall number of smokers.

After the ban on smoking in restaurants, bars and public places succeeded in New York, several other cities to adopted similar laws as also a few countries.

The fear that ban on smoking would affect the business proved to be baseless.

The argument that anti-smoking campaigns would bring down the revenue as governments would not be able to collect taxes is not correct, he said, pointing to the money spent on those who become sick as a result of smoking.

He would like to have zero revenue from cigarette sales and that should be the goal, he remarked.

Bloomberg, who is retiring the Mayor in December 2009, and cannot contest for the third term, had started his initiative called 'Bloomberg Effort to Reduce Tobacco Use' in 2006 pumping $125 million of his own money.

Bloomberg initiative aims a reducing smoking in 15 low and middle income countries inhabited by a majority of smokers.

Dharam Shourie in New York
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