Leading experts today call for a global campaign to create a tobacco-free world by 2040.
They warn that despite the decline of smoking in the developed world, tobacco use is expected to increase in some countries over the next decade, notably in Africa and the Middle East.
With global population rising, there could still be more than a billion people smoking in 2025 unless urgent action is taken, it is claimed.
The call to arms in the fight against smoking comes in a series of articles published in the Lancet medical journal.
Prof Robert Beaglehole, from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, who co-led the international group of public health and policy experts, said: “The time has come for the world to acknowledge the unacceptability of the damage being done by the tobacco industry and work towards a world essentially free from the legal and illegal sale of tobacco products.
“A world where tobacco is out of sight, out of mind, and out of fashion - yet not prohibited - is achievable in less than three decades from now, but only with full commitment from governments, international agencies, such as UN and World Health Organisation, and civil society.”
Global tobacco regulation should be “turbocharged”, with the United Nations taking a leading role in efforts to eliminate the sale and use of tobacco.
The experts pointed out that falling demand for tobacco in rich parts of the world had caused the “big four” tobacco companies to turn their attention to low and middle-income countries.
Their alleged tactics included industrial litigation, lobbying through third-party groups, and covert maintenance of political pressure disguised as “corporate social responsibility”.
Prof Anna Gilmore, another of the authors from Bath University, said: “Contrary to industry claims, tobacco marketing deliberately targets women and young people.
“The tobacco industry continues to interfere with governments’ efforts to implement effective tobacco control policies.
“If the world is to become tobacco free, it’s vital that the industry’s appalling conduct receives far closer scrutiny and countries which stand up to the industry’s bullying tactics receive better global support.”