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December 9, 2009

WHO Report Shows 95 Percent of World’s Population Not Protected from Secondhand Tobacco Smoke

Only 5 percent of the world’s population is covered by policies that protect people from to secondhand tobacco smoke, according to a report issued December 9 by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2009: Implementing smoke-free environments found that the proportion of the world’s population covered by comprehensive smoke-free air laws increased from 3.1 percent in 2007 to 5.4 percent in 2008. Research shows that comprehensive limits on indoor smoking in all public places are the only effective means to protect non-smokers from the harmful effects of exposure to secondhand smoke.

The report also offers new information on progress made in enacting smoke-free air laws in cities and states. According to the report, 22 of the 100 most populous cities in the world have smoke-free air laws, with 13 coming from city or state initiatives rather than through national efforts.

“There is no safe level for secondhand smoke exposure and we know that exposure to tobacco smoke can lead to serious health consequences,” said Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “This report defines the progress that has been made globally towards limiting exposure to harmful secondhand smoke while defining where additional progress is needed.”

The report was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies through the $375 million Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use. The Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use supports projects that accelerate implementation of the MPOWER package of proven tobacco control strategies, including rigorous tobacco policy and the use of monitoring systems. MPOWER, an acronym for Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies; Protect people from tobacco smoke; Offer help to quit tobacco use; Warn about the danger of tobacco; Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and Raise taxes on tobacco.

Other Initiative efforts include those that protect non-smokers from exposure to other people’s smoke, increase tobacco taxes, change the image of tobacco and help people quit. The Initiative supports governmental efforts to curb the tobacco epidemic through implementation of these policies, as well as advocacy efforts aimed to encourage governments to take action.

As a collaborator in the Bloomberg Initiative, the Bloomberg School of Public Health and its Institute for Global Tobacco Control work to expand tobacco-control-related capacity building; synthesize what is known about the economics of tobacco control and coordinate work to fill identified gaps in knowledge; and analyze, refine and optimize tobacco control interventions in collaboration with the other Initiative partners, including support for policies restricting smoking in public places.

Public Affairs media contact: Tim Parsons at 410-955-7619 or tmparson@jhsph.edu.