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Smoking has emerged as the leading preventable cause of death in the Americas, but some tobacco-growing nations and companies are preventing an aggressive response, according to a report presented Tuesday to the hemisphere's top health officials.

Smoking-related diseases claim more than 600,000 lives a year in the Americas, surpassing AIDS, accidents and suicide, said Dr. George A.O. Alleyne, director-general of the Pan-American Health Organization.

In the region, 1 in 3 people older than 15 smokes, he said.

Alleyne spoke at the start of a five-day conference in San Juan, where about 30 health ministers from the Americas considered proposals on fighting tobacco consumption.

While avoiding politically delicate specifics, Alleyne said "economic interests" in some member states are "among the principal factors that hinder the task" of fighting smoking.

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