- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

'Third-world smoke'
It sounds like Marlboro Country may now be located in Vietnam, Costa Rica or even Ivory Coast.
A new study by the World Health Organization finds that cigarettes cost less in the developing world now than they did a decade ago. Lower prices, combined with few government restrictions on smoking, mean that the habit is on the rise, according to the Geneva-based World Health Organization.
With a pack of cigarettes cheaper in some places than 2 pounds of rice or a loaf of bread, the WHO predicts a dramatic increase in smoking-related deaths in poor countries. It says that smoking now kills 4 million people a year, but that figure could double by 2020. As much as 70 percent of the anticipated 8.4 million tobacco deaths projected for 2020 will be in the developing world, it said last week.
WHO undertook an ambitious anti-tobacco initiative three years ago, and work is continuing on a treaty addressing subsidies, taxation, marketing, labeling and anti-smuggling measures.
Not surprisingly, cigarettes cost more in rich countries than ever before, thanks to a combination of inflation, regulation and taxation.
"Increasing the price of tobacco products remains one of the most effective methods of curbing the consumption of tobacco products and thereby reducing the global deaths caused by tobacco," said Dr. Derek Yach, who runs the tobacco initiative for the WHO.
Urging higher prices, through regulation and taxation will discourage new users and generate income that could be used for health care and smoking-prevention programs, he said.
That message has been received clearly in the United States, where local and state governments are aggressively raising taxes and trying to keep tobacco out of the hands of minors.
One place where a pack of cigarettes will really set you back is Manhattan. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has announced his intention to raise local taxes from 8 cents a pack to $1.35, which is expected to raise the pack price to an unprecedented $7.
The mayor has acknowledged that the increase could bring in as much as $250 million a year for New York's empty coffers, but said the real value will be in cutting off new smokers and reducing the habit in others.
Ironically, the U.N. headquarters may be the one office building in New York where workers don't have to huddle in doorways to light up. U.N. property is exempt from rules by the U.S. Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that prohibit smoking in the workplace. But some wonder if it's more a matter of so many foreign diplomats from smoke-tolerant lands who can't understand American paranoia about second-hand smoke.
The world organization has quietly negotiated to find a space to wall off for its smokers, but so far, no luck.
Stairwells, the lounge outside the Security Council antechambers, and much of the basement hallways seem to be colonized by the building's many smokers.
Dr. Yach admitted he was flabbergasted by the flagrant puffing when he visited the United Nation's headquarters a year ago.

First lady empaneled
Laura Bush will pay her first visit to the United Nations this week to participate in a panel discussion on Afghan women.
On Friday, International Women's Day, she will join Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other U.N. officials to "celebrate the indomitable spirit, heroism and endurance of Afghan women," the United Nations announced.
Mrs. Bush has made the plight of Afghan women one of her few public policy issues.

Pay bills promptly
Trying to find the Internet site of the U.N. women's program, UNIFEM? Using a search engine could land you at unifem.org or unifem.com where you'll find pictures of naked women instead of messages of female empowerment.
Registration for www.unifem.org lapsed late last year, and an unknown person bought the domain name for antagonistic purposes, explained UNIFEM spokeswoman Micol Zarb. The current owners are offering it for sale, but officials said the organization shouldn't have to buy back its own World Wide Web address.
"This is exactly the thing we're trying to combat, the objectifying of women," said Ms. Zarb, who notes that the U.N. Office of Legal Affairs has been trying to help them liberate the domain name.
"It's really unfortunate, it's really sad because it's clear that whoever did this knows something about the kind of work we do." For the time being, visitors can find legitimate information at www.unifem.undp.org.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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