- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2000

BANGKOK Facing dwindling market share in the United States, American tobacco companies are targeting the developing world, according to the World Health Organization.

"The tobacco companies had to look to new outlets … since their customers eventually die," WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland said last week.

The death toll from tobacco-related illnesses in the developing world is rising precipitously, said Mrs. Brundtland, who was in Bangkok to help launch a global "No-Tobacco Day" campaign.

Studies in the medical journal Lancet have shown that while smoking rates are decreasing in some industrialized states, they are rising 3 percent annually in the developing world. According to WHO statistics, developing states account for 82 percent of the world's smokers.

"Throughout the developing world, growth rates of tobacco users are rising … the developing world is the target of big tobacco companies," said Uton Rafei, director of the WHO's Southeast Asia office.

The health organization predicts that by 2020, tobacco-related illnesses will be the leading cause of death in the developing world. In China, researchers have estimated that by the middle of the century, one in three Chinese men will die from smoking-related diseases.

Nongovernmental health organizations charge that tobacco companies use strategies no longer tolerated in the West to promote their products in poorer states, including advertising campaigns aimed at fad-obsessed teen-agers, manipulating nicotine content, and tacitly supporting tobacco smuggling in order to undermine cigarette taxes.

Joe Camel billboards, which have been banned in the United States, are frequent sights near schoolyards in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

According to the WHO, nicotine levels of up to 3.2 milligrams per cigarette have been reported in Southeast Asia. In most developed states, cigarettes contain less than 1.4 milligrams of nicotine.

Most developing states have more lax tobacco regulations than the United States. According to a report by the British Medical Association, in more than half the world's developing states, packs of cigarettes carry no health warnings.

British American Tobacco PLC representatives told The Washington Times their company does not take advantage of lax regulations, does not support smuggling, and works with states to prevent children from smoking.

British American, which is the world's second-largest private cigarette company and is the parent company of the U.S. firm Brown and Williamson Tobacco Co., has argued that tobacco production helps boost developing economies' growth rates.

But a World Bank study has shown that tobacco production actually is a net loss for developing states because high health bills incurred treating tobacco-related illnesses outweigh revenues gained from producing and exporting tobacco.

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