x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Billionaires provide boost to anti-smoking campaign

Two of the richest men in the US pledged US$375 million this week to an anti-smoking effort.

Bill Gates, left, Microsoft's co-founder, and Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, will give millions to reduce smoking worldwide.
Bill Gates, left, Microsoft's co-founder, and Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, will give millions to reduce smoking worldwide.

WASHINGTON // Two of the richest men in the United States pledged a combined US$375 million (Dh1.376bn) this week to a global anti-smoking effort aimed at stamping out one of the world's worst public health threats. Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder and co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Michael Bloomberg, the New York City mayor and founder of Bloomberg News, will jointly fund a campaign in support of higher cigarette taxes, smoke-free environment legislation, anti-smoking advertising and smoking-cessation programmes.

The Gates Foundation will contribute $125m over the next five years, while Mr Bloomberg's Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use will spend $250m over the next four. The mayor, who has been at the forefront of the US anti-smoking movement with his successful effort to eliminate smoking in New York City's bars and restaurants, had already pledged an initial $125m when he launched the initiative, which aims at combating tobacco use in poor and middle-income countries, two years ago.

The anti-smoking campaign, which will include non-profit groups and governments alike, will target the five developing countries with the highest populations of smokers: Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia and Russia. "Bill and I want to highlight the enormity of this problem and catalyse a global movement of governments and civil society to stop the tobacco epidemic," Mr Bloomberg said on Wednesday.

"We challenge governments to show leadership by implementing tobacco control measures, as an increasing number are doing, and to increase funding for these efforts." While the smoke-free movement has taken off in parts of the United States - 24 states and the District of Columbia have laws banning smoking in eating and drinking establishments - smoking remains a global scourge that is increasingly affecting developing countries. In a February report, funded by Mr Bloomberg's philanthropies, the World Health Organisation predicted that smoking could kill as many as one billion people this century. In the nearly 180 countries it surveyed, the WHO found that only five per cent of the population was covered by smoke-free laws, and only four countries had comprehensive warnings on cigarette packs.

The UAE, whose residents spend an estimated Dh400m a year on tobacco products, is among the countries that will employ graphic images, including of diseased organs and cancer patients, on cigarette packs as a way to deter smoking. @Email:eniedowski@thenational.ae