Mar. 3 1999
Washington, DC - U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Susan Collins (R-ME) announced today that they are sponsoring the first-ever International Policy Conference on Children and Tobacco to begin developing a global approach to the problem of youth tobacco use. This landmark conference will bring together legislators, parliamentarians and other political leaders representing more than 30 countries, about 75 percent of the world's population, to identify key policies that nations throughout the world can pursue. The conference will be held March 17-19 at the Organization of American States in Washington. "This conference is an important first step in developing an international dialogue on the problem of youth tobacco use," said Durbin. "Tobacco advertising and marketing transcends national borders, and so do the economic costs and devastation associated with tobacco addiction. Although it is the leading preventable cause of death, there is still no global approach for reducing the health, economic and social costs of tobacco use and exposure. Countries need to act both nationally and internationally to solve this problem." "As we work to improve our laws in the U.S. to protect children from being targeted by tobacco companies, we have a moral obligation to not finance any so-called tobacco settlement in this country by sacrificing the lungs of children abroad," said Wyden. "Ultimately, my hope is that we can generate the international resolve to give kids of the world the gift of a tobacco-free childhood." "I am particularly sensitive to the problem of smoking among young people because Maine unfortunately has the dubious distinction of having the highest smoking rate among 18 to 34 year- olds in the United States," said Collins. "Almost 40 percent of Maine high school students smoke and 1.4 million packs of cigarettes are illegally purchased by Maine young people each year." Other sponsors of the International Policy Conference include American Cancer Society, American Public Health Association, CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. International participants include the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the Organization of American States. "The goal of the tobacco companies is simple: they want to preserve and build their sales and profits by ensuring a replacement generation of smokers," said Bill Novelli, president of the CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS, joining the Senators at the announcement. "Whether it is toy cars with the Camel insignia sold to kids in Buenos Aires, tattoos for children with the Salem logo in Hong Kong, or the arcade games in the Philippines plastered with the Marlboro brand, tobacco companies will continue to expand their markets around the world and increase the numbers of children – and women – who smoke." Conference organizers also released a briefing paper at the announcement outlining the magnitude of the problem of youth tobacco use worldwide. The paper provides the conference participants and other interested parties with valuable background information and facts, as well as an overview of public policy options to combat the problem. Among the findings from the paper: * The number of smokers in China is larger than the entire population of the United States; * Three-fourths of smokers in Latin America began lighting up between 14-17 years of age; * Currently, 3.5 million people worldwide die each year from tobacco – a number that will rise to 10 million annually by the early 2030s. "The magnitude of the problem is staggering," said Durbin. "If nothing is done, more people will die from tobacco-related illness over the next 30 years than from AIDS, tuberculosis, car accidents, homicide and suicide combined. The evidence is clear: we need a global solution." The conference is built around three panel discussions over two days. The discussions will focus on the urgency and global magnitude of the problems associated with tobacco use among children, and examine specific policies that have been implemented by different nations to address these problems. The panels are designed to foster discussion among the conference participants and the panelists; collaboration will continue after the conference concludes. Panelists were chosen from among the top experts in tobacco control around the world. The opening remarks for the conference will be given by Dr. Gro Brundtland, Director General of the World Health Organization, at 9:15 a.m. on March 18 at the Organization of American States and will be open to the media. There will also be media availability with Dr. Brundtland at the conclusion of her remarks. The remainder of the conference will be closed to media.