Tobacco and obesity are overtaking hunger and infectious disease as leading causes of death and illness across the developing world, an Australian expert has warned.
As globalisation had lifted millions of people out of poverty, Dr Paul Kowal said free trade agreements had allowed the rapid movement of processed food and tobacco products into the world’s poorest nations.
Many developing countries now faced new and mounting health threats from the expanding availability of fast food, soft drinks and cigarettes, he said.
“To increase development in a country, they are forced to open up to transnational corporations including tobacco corporations,” Dr Kowal said of the trend emerging in the world’s developing nations.
“And there is a clear correlation between the local presence of a tobacco company and increasing tobacco uptake.”
Dr Kowal holds a position on a research committee within the World Health Organisation (WHO) and is also a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Newcastle.
He spoke to AAP on Tuesday after he addressed the International Conference on Realising the Rights to Health and Development for All underway in Hanoi in Vietnam. Dr Kowal pointed to WHO estimates that, if trends continue, there will be more than eight million tobacco-related deaths a year by 2030, 80 per cent of them in the developing world.
In 2000, the number of overweight and obese adults in the world exceeded the number of underweight for the first time.
Dr Kowal said Indonesia was a classic example of a developing country that had levels of smoking and obesity “increasing as the gross national income per capita increased” while India, China and many South-East Asian countries were on a similar path.
He said tobacco companies were known to tailor their marketing efforts in developing countries to try to reach those in the population that had not traditionally smoked – women.
They also worked to sidestep advertising bans through the sponsorship of sporting teams or by selling cigarettes “by the stick”.
Vietnam, which has one of the world’s highest rates of smokers at 56 per cent of men and two per cent of women, has moved to ban smoking in indoor public places from January next year.
Another speaker told the conference that Vietnam spent about $US77.5 million ($A84.47 million) each year on health care to treat tobacco-related diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease.
“Smoking kills, that’s pretty clear, and it has overtaken infectious disease in a lot of lower-income countries yet there is still a misconception there that infectious disease is rampant,” Dr Kowal said.
“In fact, we’re seeing a double burden of disease – non-communicable disease from risk factors like induced poor eating habits or smoking uptake is becoming a bigger and bigger problem.”
Health experts at the conference are calling on governments to increase tobacco taxes, ban tobacco advertising, improve education about tobacco-related diseases, adopt global and legally-binding codes, and limit market access to transnational corporations.