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Statement from Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard K. Koh on World No Tobacco Day


On May 31, 2012 we join the World Health Organization (WHO) in recognizing World No Tobacco Day and the global devastation caused by tobacco use.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death worldwide. The global tobacco epidemic kills nearly six million people each year, including 600,000 from secondhand smoke.  If current trends continue, tobacco use will kill up to eight million people per year by 2030, of which more than 80 percent will live in low- and middle-income countries.

Every day in the United States, more than 1,200 people die due to smoking and, for each of those deaths, at least two adolescents or young adults become regular smokers, according to the most recent Surgeon General’s Report .

Proven solutions to reduce tobacco use described by the World Health Organization call for nations to enact 100 percent smoke-free laws; help tobacco users quit; regulate tobacco product contents, packaging, and advertising; and increase the price of tobacco products.

Absence of these measures will result in further growth of the global epidemic. However, implementing effective tobacco control measures worldwide can reduce overall adult smoking from 25 percent to 20 percent, and prevent 100 million deaths by 2020.

That’s why over the last three years, our department has accelerated efforts to reduce tobacco use, taking a coordinated approach that uses the many tools available to help tobacco users stop and keep others from starting.

We enacted historic legislation that further prevents tobacco companies from marketing their products to kids and restricts the use of misleading terms like “light” or “mild.”

We are working to increase access to counseling services to help smokers quit and have made a key change so that Medicare now covers cessation services before people get sick, instead of forcing them to wait until symptoms begin appearing.

We’re also supporting state-based quitlines and local tobacco prevention and control programs that can eventually become models for the rest of the country. Moreover, there are signs that momentum is building around the country as there are comprehensive smoke-free laws in more than half of states.

Most recently, we launched a historic mass media campaign, Tips from Former Smokers, featuring the toll that smoking-related illnesses take on smokers and their loved ones, and encouraging smokers to quit.

For every one smoking-related death in the United States, 20 people live with a smoking-related disease such as lung cancer, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or stroke.

Today, we honor World No Tobacco Day by reflecting on the monumental work to reduce tobacco use here in the United States, while also rededicating ourselves to achieving a society where tobacco is no longer a leading cause of death and disease worldwide.

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