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Bangladesh receives support for its anti-smoking lobby from the New York mayor

Bangladesh is one of many developing countries where there are high smoking rates among men and adolescent boys, with nearly half of all males smoking and almost one in ten teenage boys (aged 13-15) adopting the habit, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Bangladesh is therefore one of five populous countries (along with China, India, Indonesia and Russia) being supported by one of the wealthiest people in the USA in his global campaign against smoking.

In an article by The Guardian, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, is reported to be the 12th wealthiest person in the USA, with a net worth of 19.5 billion dollars. Now Mr Bloomberg is targeting some of that wealth at preventing smoking-related deaths worldwide. The mayor of New York has given 220 million dollars to a global campaign against the tobacco industry, which will be focused on preventing the growth of smoking in low and middle income countries. Around four-fifths of smoking-related deaths occur in these countries. Some of Mr Bloomberg’s money will go towards legal support where developing nations are fighting court cases brought by tobacco companies against restrictions. Anti-smoking campaigners say it is vital governments win these cases, if developing nations are not to feel intimidated as they face up to the giant tobacco firms. 

Speaking at a conference on tobacco and health in Singapore, Mr Bloomberg said “there is nothing that any of us here will do that will save as many lives as stopping people smoking”. He called the tobacco industry “a scourge all over the world”, accusing companies of targeting poor and uneducated people in low-income and developing nations. Mr Bloomberg’s money will support organisations which encourage healthier lifestyles and lobby governments to pass anti-tobacco laws such as smoking bans in public places and restrictions on advertising.

Thailand has a nationwide anti-smoking movement and a public body, the Thai Health Promotion Foundation (ThaiHealth), which was set up in 2001 to reduce health risks and promote healthy behaviour. Funding for ThaiHealth of around 50 million dollars each year comes from a 2% excise tax on alcohol and cigarettes. However, this funding is dwarfed by the sums invested by the tobacco industry, which sees Asia as its future key market. 

Mr Bloomberg is particularly keen to ensure tobacco companies are prevented from targeting children. Research has shown that many teenagers begin smoking even before the age of 10. Enforcing bans on the sale of tobacco products to minors and on advertising (such as the sponsoring of sports events) has an important part to play. Mr Bloomberg also wants film and TV companies to de-glamorise smoking. And crucially, he insists that governments in countries like Thailand must raise taxes on cigarettes. Put simply, when the price of a pack of cigarettes is high, “it is a real disincentive for kids – they don’t have the disposable income”.

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