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Policymakers need to step up efforts to cut smoking rates in Asia to prevent an "epidemic" of tobacco-related lung disease, medical experts have said at a conference in Mumbai.

Many Asian countries have seen a surge in tobacco use in the last decade, particularly among the young and in urban areas as a result of economic growth. A rise in smoking by women has also been noted.

But ignorance of the health risks remain, especially among the rural poor, while overall tobacco use is adding an economic burden to countries in terms of healthcare and insurance costs plus lost productivity through illness.

Matthew Peters, head of thoracic medicine at Sydney's Concord Hospital, told the 14th World Conference on Tobacco or Health that there were "real and material healthcare benefits" for countries to encourage people to quit.

Between 20 and 60 percent of cases of tuberculosis, which is increasing in Asia, were caused by smoking, he told a seminar entitled "Tobacco-related lung disease in Asia - actions to avert the epidemic".

"Stopping smoking is a very simple way" of cutting TB rates, he said, adding that quitting also meant the region's poor, who are most affected by the disease, could use the money that previously went on tobacco for food and clothing.

"These benefits are substantial, they are seen quickly and impact on the most important health risks in this region... and the especially complex issue of economic deprivation and nutrition," he added.

Many at the conference expressed concern about the increases in smoking and tobacco use in Asia, as big tobacco firms look to the region for new markets with more people giving up smoking in developed countries.

Health professionals want anti-smoking legislation, including bans on tobacco advertising, tightened up.

Some 1.25 billion people worldwide use tobacco in some form every day. China and India account for more than half of that total, according to the American Cancer Society and World Lung Foundation statistics presented at the conference.

(Agencies via China Daily March 20, 2009)

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