`Cowboy Bob' turned to ash for `World No Tobacco Day'

Thursday, May 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GENEVA (AP) _ Children set fire to a Marlboro Man-style effigy as a band played country music in this Swiss city, and a chain store in Singapore handed out candies instead of cigarettes, as part of events Thursday to highlight the dangers of tobacco.

Warnings about secondhand smoke appeared in official news outlets in China, the world's biggest consumer and producer of cigarettes, and in Cuba, the Caribbean nation famous for its cigars.

``The truth is out _ tobacco kills,'' said World Health Organization Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland, marking the annual World No Tobacco Day. ``What you now need to know is that tobacco kills nonsmokers as well.''

Brundtland said people should do more to speak out against secondhand smoke, which she said affects about 700 million people worldwide, and to lobby for a ban on smoking in public places.

``Bans put the emphasis on people's right to health and help to make smoking the exception rather than the norm,'' she told dozens of children in a busy square in downtown Geneva where a ``cowboy Bob'' cigarette-advertising effigy went up in flames and a country music band played.

In an attempt to knock the appeal out of Marlboro Man-style advertisements, WHO has used the cowboy-on-horseback image on its anti-smoking posters, emblazoned with the caption: ``Bob, I've got cancer.''

The U.N. agency estimates that 10 million people a year will die from tobacco-related diseases by 2030, more than 70 percent of them from the developing world. The toll now is about 4 million.

World No Tobacco Day, which WHO began in 1989, is held annually on May 31.

In this year's events, smokers in Singapore were given candies when they tried to buy cigarettes in the Cold Storage supermarket chain. A record 515 shops, nightclubs and pubs in the wealthy Southeast Asian city-state refused to sell tobacco products on Thursday, up from 284 last year. About 15 percent of Singapore's 4 million people smoke cigarettes.

The Polish parliament received a WHO award for its anti-smoking legislation, which banned tobacco advertising in November 1999. The country once had one of the world's highest smoking rates _ 62 percent of men and 30 percent of women in 1982 _ but has seen rates fall to about 40 percent of men and 20 percent of women.

``Secondhand smoke kills. Let's clear the air,'' was the message delivered in China. There are an estimated 320 million smokers in China _ 67 percent of all men and 4 percent of women.

``China still has a long way to go in controlling tobacco consumption,'' Cao Ronggui, president of the Chinese Association of Smoking and Health, told the government-run Xinhua News Agency.

In Cuba, the Juventud Rebelde newspaper dedicated an entire page to the problem of secondhand smoke. ``They Suffer With Your Pleasure,'' read the headline in the newspaper, which is published by the Communist Youth Union.

``Tobacco smoke is an epidemic,'' the story said. ``It pursues us. At home, at work, in public places there is always one smoker, peacefully inhaling his addictive nicotine, and sharing it of course.''

A short analysis accompanying the story reminded readers that the country has laws aimed at protecting nonsmokers from the dangers of secondhand smoke on public transportation. But it acknowledged that even if a nonsmoker on a bus reminds a smoker of the law, he is likely to get the response: ``I do it because I want to.''