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World: WHO Launches Internet-Based Drive Against Smoking

London, 10 June 1999 (RFE/RL) - The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a new Internet-based information program that outlines the life-saving and economic benefits of persuading tobacco smokers to quit smoking. The program is aimed at the 30 million European smokers who try -- but mostly fail -- to give up cigarettes, cigars and pipes each year.

The program outlines the benefits of stopping smoking after an exhaustive survey of six countries: Poland, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, and the Netherlands.

The website provides statistics about smoking-related health effects, including a higher incidence of chronic pulmonary disease, cancer, asthma, coronary heart disease, and strokes.

Health experts expect that over the next 20 years, in the six countries surveyed, between one-third and one-half of smokers will contract a smoking-related disease, resulting in 14 million deaths.

The program says if the prevalence of smoking stays at current rates, more than $300 billion will be spent in the six countries to treat smoking-related diseases in the next 20 years. Health officials say quitting smoking at any age positively affects a person's health. After a year of abstinence, for example, an ex-smoker has the same risk of a heart attack as a person who never smoked. Doctor Peter Anderson of WHO's regional office for Europe tells RFE/RL that benefits are immediate:

"At any age there are benefits to quitting smoking. And you get [an] immediate and long-term benefit particularly if you are under the age of, say, the mid-forties. If you give up smoking, very quickly your life expectancy can return to that of a non-smoker."

Last year, some 30 million European smokers tried to quit but more than 90 percent failed. Anderson says nicotine dependence is an addiction formally classified as a disease. He says intervention by public health programs and implementing proven treatments can greatly increase the success rate of quitting:

"What we are trying to say is that treatment to help people give up smoking is very effective. Treatment means giving people advice to quit smoking, treatment also means supplementing that advice with pharmacological aids, for example, nicotine replacement therapy or other medications that can help people quit smoking."

The website was launched a week ago to coincide with "World No-Tobacco" Day. It is part of a three-year partnership launched at the World Economic Forum in January involving governments, NGOs and the pharmaceuticals industry.

Anderson says the project is the most comprehensive effort yet to engage everyone who wants to end tobacco dependence.

The project provides guidance for health workers on how to help people quit smoking, assists governments in developing no-smoking policies and promotes the creation of smoke-free workplaces.

The WHO Economic Consequences of Smoking Model is available on the internet at the following address: