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Tobacco use is a major but preventable cause of premature death and disease around the world. Currently, about 5.4 million people die each year of tobacco-related illnesses, a figure that is expected to rise to 8 million deaths annually over the next 20 years. Sub-Saharan Africa in particular is on the brink of a smoking epidemic that health experts say will boost cancer rates across the continent.
To monitor this threat and alert health officials to ominous trends, a systemic surveillance mechanism is one of the essential components of a comprehensive tobacco control program. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is the lead American agency in an international tobacco monitoring effort called the Global Tobacco Surveillance System.
Partnering with the World Health Organization, the Canadian Public Health Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and other groups, it works with nations in Africa and other regions to enhance their capacity to monitor tobacco use and guide national tobacco prevention and control programs aimed at protecting the public's health from the harmful effects of tobacco use.
While American companies play a major role in world tobacco markets, the United States government does not promote the sale or export of tobacco or tobacco products. Indeed, U.S. embassies are encouraged to actively assist and promote tobacco control efforts in their host countries.
At the same time, however, the U.S. opposes discriminatory tobacco-control efforts that target the products of some countries and not others. The overall objective is to ensure that U.S. companies have equal access to what it hopes will be a shrinking global market for tobacco.