Third World poverty "exacerbated by tobacco companies"
By Julie Ji
2 August 2006
Sydney University researcher Mary Assunta has used the world's biggest smoking and health conference to attack tobacco companies for prolonging the "vicious cycle of poverty" in developing nations.
Speaking at the opening session of the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Washington DC, Miss Assunta said hunger and malnutrition were exacerbated by tobacco use.
In developing countries families were trapped by tobacco in a vicious cycle of poverty. "The majority of them stay poor and get sick while generating wealth for the shareholders of a few large multinational corporations," she said.
She argued that tobacco control should be explicitly included as one of the UN's Millennium Development Goals of Poverty Reduction - a suggestion later adopted as one of the conference's seven declarations, a series of action points for governments and global organisations like the WHO.
Miss Assunta, who was born in Malaysia and worked until recently on Simon Chapman's tobacco documentation project in the School of Public Health, shared a stage at the plenary session with Nobel Prize laureate Amartya Sen. Professor Chapman, an internationally renowned anti-tobacco campaigner who is supervising her PhD, said: "I was immensely proud to see her speak. Mary's speech was powerful and effective. She is doing remarkable work."
The conference was attended by about 5000 researchers, health professionals, advocates and government officials from all over the world.
Miss Assunta also successfully pushed for the next conference to be moved away from the prosperous First World. "The last time the world conference was held in a developing country was in Beijing in 1997, and I think it's important that more people from developing nations can afford to attend," she said.
"You have to move the conference to where it's needed the most. The global burden of tobacco-related disease is in the developing world, and at the moment many from that world cannot afford to attend at expensive venues." Within hours the organising committee decided to hold the next meeting in Mumbai.
Miss Assunta, whose PhD research is on the Japanese tobacco industry, is also chair of the international NGO Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), which works to promote the effective implementation of the global Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control (FCTC). To date 135 countries have ratified and are legally bound by the FCTC treaty. "My priority in the coming months will be to see if the developing countries are doing what they promised in tobacco control, and to come up with strategic implementation plans," Miss Assunta said.
Smoking has become the second biggest cause of death in the world, and if current patterns continue tobacco will cause 10 million deaths a year by 2020 - with most of the disease burden falling on the developing world.
Contact: Richard North
Phone: 02 9351 3720