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Eastern Europe: Conference Warns Against The Hazards Of Smoking

Warsaw, 14 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Participants in an international health conference in Warsaw have called on Central and East European governments to take action to arrest the spread of man-made diseases.

Health experts from 23 countries yesterday ended a three-day conference with a warning that unless immediate preventive steps are taken, large numbers of people will continue to die prematurely each year of cancer and heart diseases.

"The diseases that are ravaging our nations at present are largely the result of unhealthy behavior established two or three decades ago," said Prof. Witold Zatonski, head of the Polish Institute of Cancer Prevention.

Zatonski focused on dangers of smoking. "Multinational tobacco companies have taken advantage of our recent democracy," he said, "and launched aggressive marketing campaigns that have made their cigarettes highly appealing to our people, especially our children and teenagers."

Scientists estimated that each day, some 10,000 young people in the Central and East European countries become regular smokers. Many of them will eventually die from smoking.

Zatonski also said that in some Central European countries, such as Hungary, more than half of men will die before age 70 from cancer, heart disease and liver cirrhosis. "We must say that there can be no real economic prosperity without improved health," he said.

The experts said Poland, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic made a big progress in cutting the mortality rate of their citizens. Decline in adult cigarette smoking and substitution of animal fat with a vegetable fat in the diet helped to reduce cardiovascular diseases by 30 percent in these three countries from 1991 to 1996. But the experts sounded alarm bells at the soaring rate of lung cancer among women. Experts predict that female lung cancer deaths in the region will more than double over the next 15 years. Eastern Europe is already experiencing lung cancer death rates never reached in western Europe, especially among young and middle age adults.

Vladimir Blanco from Prague criticized Czech politicians for not being determined enough to combat tobacco advertising. "We have problems with our politicians," he said.

In a final resolution, the experts called on the government to increase taxes on tobacco and alcohol, and ban tobacco advertising. The experts also proposed to expand construction of sport facilities and conduct a campaign in the media against tobacco and alcohol. The conference was organized by the Polish Health Ministry and the World Bank.