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WHO Chief Takes New Swipe At Tobacco Firms

OSLO, Jan 5 (Reuters) - U.N. health chief Gro Harlem Brundtland took a new swipe at tobacco firms Tuesday, saying smoking would be the world's top cause of death by 2020 and kill a third of Chinese men now aged under 30.

``In the year 2020 tobacco is expected to kill more people than any other single illness -- HIV-AIDS included,'' she said in a speech to Norwegian business leaders. ``Today 3.5 million people die every year from tobacco-related illnesses.''

``This figure may rise to more than 10 million people a year next century,'' said Brundtland, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) and a former Norwegian prime minister.

``Growth is coming in the south, where the tobacco industry is directing its attention and strongly marketing,'' she said.

Brundtland has declared war on tobacco companies since taking up her post as WHO director-general in January 1998, calling for bans on advertising and subsidies to tobacco producers.

She said that in China ``we know with a great degree of certainty that one in three men now aged under 30 will die as a result of smoking. That will cost China dear. We now have similar figures from country after country.''

``That's why we're putting great stress on the fight against tobacco, especially to prevent new generations of children and youths becoming dependent on nicotine.

``More than 80 percent of smokers begin before they are 18. That so many children become dependent is also a huge violation of children's rights,'' she said.

She said that the WHO would advise countries about how to strengthen anti-tobacco legislation and would share scientific knowledge about how smokers can give up.

In the year 2020, she said that cardiac illnesses, largely caused by smoking, would be the main non-infectious causes of global ill health, followed by mental illness and depression and traffic accidents.

The current order is lung infections, diarrhea and infant illnesses, she said.


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