Half a billion young Asians are at risk from diseases associated with nicotine, a senior World Health Organisation official said Friday, denouncing advertising directed at teenagers.
"Youngsters are led to believe that certain types of cigarettes do not contain nicotine, when in fact they do," Asia-Pacific director Shigeru Omi said in a statement issued on the eve of the WHO-designated World No Tobacco Day.
He said the tobacco industry's marketing campaign targets half a billion young people in the Western Pacific "into trying their first stick."
The WHO estimates that each day more than 3,000 people die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases in that region alone.
Omi reiterated the UN agency's call for a total ban on tobacco advertising, saying partial bans merely allowed companies to shift resources from one promotional tactic to another.
The WHO accused tobacco firms of "falsely associating use of their products with desirable qualities such as glamour, energy and sex appeal, as well as exciting outdoor activities and adventure."
He said girls and young female adults were now a key focus of these campaigns.
In the Philippines, four million youths smoke while two million more are exposed to smoking, health department official Yolanda Oliveros told the news conference.
The young smokers include 1.8 million girls, said Oliveros, director of the National Centre for Prevention Disease Control.