New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who fought for anti-smoking legislation in the city, said he would donate $220 million to help reduce tobacco use in China, India and elsewhere in the developing world.
Bloomberg has already pledged money to target the low- and middle-income countries where, according to the World Health Organization, three-quarters of the 1 billion smokers worldwide live. Today’s pledge brings his total to more than $600 million.
Since 2007, 60 countries have passed at least one policy to limit tobacco, including bans on smoking in any workplace, graphic warnings about the harms of cigarette use displayed on packs, prohibitions on advertising as well as taxes and anti-tobacco advertising. About 6 million people a year die from smoking, including more than 600,000 nonsmokers who were exposed to second-hand smoke, according to the WHO.
“It is a scourge, all over the world,” Bloomberg said in a press conference. “Smoking kills the user, but it also can kill the people who are innocent and just happen to be in the neighborhood, if you will.”
More than 80 countries have received support from the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use and since 2007, 30 countries have passed at least one of the protection policies the WHO defines as a high-level effort.
“There’s a long way to go on the policy side,” said Kelly Henning, director of Public Health Programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies, in a telephone interview.
A significant concern is the marketing efforts of the tobacco industry, targeting young children with advertising and sweetened cigarettes, she said.
The Bloomberg initiative supports the efforts of governments to implement new laws, and works with non-governmental organizations to lobby, Henning said. In addition, the group sponsors anti-tobacco-advertising. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
During his first year in office, in 2002, Bloomberg persuaded the New York state legislature to increase the city’s cigarette tax to $1.50 from 8 cents per pack and the city council to ban smoking in workplaces, including bars and restaurants. As of December 2010, 25 states and the District of Columbia had enacted similar no-smoking laws, along with Uruguay, the U.K., France, Italy, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
“If you go around and see the success that we’ve had in reducing smoking, particularly in New York City, one of the reasons we’ve been able to be successful is that if you smoke, it hurts me,” Bloomberg said. “There’s a big block of people, namely 80 percent of people who don’t smoke, who wish that the other 20 percent did not smoke.”
About one-third of the world’s smokers live in China, and 10 percent live in India, Henning said. In China, the state owns the largest tobacco company, China National Tobacco Corp., “and that makes it a very challenging environment,” she said. Even so, cities like Shanghai and Beijing have enacted smoking bans.
Bloomberg Philanthropies recognized six organizations today during the 15th World Conference on Tobacco or Health for their efforts in fighting tobacco use in low- and middle-income countries. The Bloomberg Awards for Global Tobacco Control are being presented during a ceremony in Singapore.
The winners include Health Justice of the Philippines, for monitoring industry efforts to influence tobacco control measures, and the Turkish National Coalition on Tobacco or Health, a grouping of more than 40 organizations, for advocating for a strong tobacco control law and monitoring its implementation.
Uruguay’s Ministry of Health won an award for implementing the largest cigarette pack warnings in the world, taking up 80 percent of both the front and back of the package, and defending the move in a lawsuit brought by a major tobacco company.
A joint award went to Corporate Accountability International Colombia and Fundacion para la Educasion y el Desarrollo Social for strengthening the implementation of Colombia’s tobacco advertising and sponsorship ban.
An award also went to Egypt’s Ministry of Finance, for implementing a 100 percent tax on shisha tobacco, which is smoked in water pipes, and cigarette taxes that now represent 70 percent of the pack price for the most popular cigarette brand in the country, generating more than $2.2 billion in government revenue annually.