Tobacco companies are targeting the half billion young people in the Asia Pacific region by linking smoking to glamorous and attractive lifestyles, the U.N. World Health Organization said Friday.

In a statement marking World No Tobacco Day on Saturday, WHO said the tobacco industry is taking advantage of young people's vulnerability to advertising and influence.

"The bombardment of messages through billboards, newspapers, magazines, radio and television ads, as well as sports and fashion sponsorships and other ploys, are meant to deceive young people into trying their first stick," Shigeru Omi, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, said in the statement.

Widespread tobacco advertising makes smoking appear normal and makes it hard for young people to understand that it can kill, the statement said.

WHO called on policy-makers to support a total ban on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion as stipulated in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a global tobacco control agreement.

It said research has shown that only total bans can be successful because partial bans allow companies to shift their resources to other promotional methods.

Omi said the tobacco industry's current focus on young females is a challenge that has to be dealt with urgently.