What does it take to encourage people to stop smoking around the world?
How about $500 million? And a couple of billionaires.
The World Health Organization estimates that money could save one billion lives this century after ten times that many that were killed by smoking last century.
What’s unusual about this effort is that two billionaires will be behind the initiative, spending the money from their own private foundations – Mayor Michael Bloomberg, through his Bloomberg Initiative will donate $250 million, above the $125 million he’s already committed, while the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will commit $125 million over the next five years.
That far exceeds the $20 million currently being spent on anti-smoking campaigns worldwide.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations is the world’s largest, controlling some $37 billion. Since 1999, the foundation has targeted $1.2 billion for the eradication of malaria and $2 million on AIDS programs.
Gates and Bloomberg, a former smoker, made the announcement in Midtown Manhattan Wednesday.
The anti-smoking campaign called Mpower, coordinates campaigns already in existence such as the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use and the WHO, but also urges governments to raise tobacco taxes, to stop smoking in public places, ban advertising, specifically to children, and to offer nicotine patches to help quit, among other programs.
Bill Gates told Bloomberg, “All the money in the world will never eradicate tobacco, but this partnership underscores how much the tide is turning against this deadly epidemic.”
Only five percent of the developing world has any anti-smoking initiatives, partially because the governments derive income from cigarette sales tax – 66 billion a year developing nations.
A Philip Morris spokesman told the New York Times that the company agrees children should not smoke but raising taxes promote smuggling and counterfeiting. Cigarette sales are supported by huge ad campaigns.
In China, 20 percent identify themselves as former smokers following anti-smoking campaigns. It’s not the same in India. “India is where China was in the mid 1990s,’ Dr. Richard Peto said to the New York Times. Dr. Peto is an Oxford epidemiologist who studies the effects of smoking in third world countries.
Gates says his foundation has been interested in an anti-smoking campaign but it took Mayor Bloomberg to jump in and take the lead.
24 states in the U.S. have banned smoking. New York City went smoke free in 2002. The District of Columbia, New York and Washington state have implemented laws that require all restaurants and bars to be smoke-free. #