The World Health Organisation said Friday that only a total ban on all forms of tobacco advertising can stop the "constantly mutating virus" of the marketing industry and protect vulnerable young people.
Tobacco companies are using ever more sophisticated marketing techniques, including the promotion of non-tobacco items like clothing, or sponsorship of concerts and sporting events, to evade what restrictions are already in place, the WHO noted.
Advertisement"The tobacco industry employs predatory marketing strategies to get young people hooked to their addictive drug," said Douglas Bettcher, director of the WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative.
These tactics are "very, very precisely focused on catching and snaring young people, in particular as replacement smokers for those who died or quit at an earlier age, so that they can continue to extract their profitability," Bettcher told journalists.
Tobacco companies are particularly targeting the developing world, and especially young girls, as "fresh cannon fodder," he said.
"Comprehensive advertising bans do work, reducing tobacco consumption by up to 16 percent in countries that have already taken this legislative step," Bettcher added.
The WHO adopted a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2005 which calls for signatories to fight smoking with higher taxation, a total advertising ban and more education about health hazards.
However, only five percent of the world's population is currently protected by comprehensive national smoke-free legislation, Bettcher noted.
A recent WHO report on tobacco use found that nearly two thirds of the world's smokers live in 10 countries: China (accounting for nearly 30 percent), India (10 percent), Indonesia, Russia, the United States, Japan, Bangladesh, Germany and Turkey.
Earlier this year the WHO warned that tobacco use could kill more than one billion people this century unless governments and civil society act to reverse the epidemic.
"Unchecked, tobacco-related deaths will increase to more than eight million a year by 2030, and 80 percent of those deaths will occur in the developing world," the WHO said in a report.
"If current trends continue, there will be up to one billion deaths in the 21st century," it added.
May 31 has been designated World No Tobacco Day.