The World Health Organization (WHO) Tuesday slammed the tobacco industry for spreading untruths about smoking in public places in a bid to counter an increasing number of smoking bans around the world.
The WHO said the tobacco industry has repeatedly "misled and misinformed the public about the health risks and dangers of second-hand tobacco smoke and about the economic impact of smoking bans."
"We all know that smoking kills," Shigeru Omi, director of the WHO's Western Pacific regional office, which is based in Manila, said in a statement ahead of World No Tobacco Day on May 31.
"What is less well known is that hundreds of thousands of people who have never smoked die each year from diseases caused by breathing smoke from other people's cigarettes," he added. "The solution is simple: 100 percent smoke-free environments."
"What isn't so simple is overcoming tobacco industry untruths about smoke-free policies," he lamented.
With "Smoke-Free Environments" as the theme of World No Tobacco Day, Omi urged leaders to protect people from second-hand tobacco smoke by passing and enforcing laws requiring smoking bans in all indoor and public places.
He warned that second-hand smoke causes cancer, acute and chronic heart disease and has been linked to bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma. In children, it is linked to lower respiratory infections, asthma, middle-ear infections and sudden infant death syndrome.
The WHO also cited a 2004 study that found that as many women in China died from second-hand smoke exposure as they did from smoking. Research has also shown that 100 percent smoke-free environments are good for business, cost little and prevent people from taking up smoking.
"Despite this evidence, the tobacco industry continues to perpetuate myths that ventilation systems can protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke exposure, that smoke-free policies hurt business or that smoking bans infringe on a smoker's rights and freedom of choice," the WHO said.
It noted that not a single study has proved that smoking bans result in negative results for the economy.
Omi said that to mark this year's World No Tobacco Day, the WHO is honouring individuals and organizations that have helped create smoke-free environments through policies and research.
Among the recipients of the World No Tobacco Awards in the Western Pacific Region are the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces for supporting smoking cessation services for its soldiers; and doctors Wang Ke-an and Wang Chen, founder and director of the Think Tank Research Centre for Health Development in China, for providing key research for anti-smoking legislation.
Setsu Seo and Jun Sono, chairman and vice chairman of the No Smoke Hyogo in Japan, were cited for spearheading grassroots smoke-free environment initiatives, while the Palau Tobacco Control Program was honoured for its strong advocacy on smoke-free policies.
Mayor Jejomar Binay of Makati City in the Philippines was given the award for implementing a model, comprehensive smoke-free policy in the financial district of metropolitan Manila.
Guam Governor Felix Camacho and Vice Governor Michael Cruz were also cited for establishing a comprehensive law banning smoking in all enclosed public places and providing support for all government employees who wish to quit smoking.