RICHMOND, Va. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg is joining Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates to launch a fund to help low- and middle-income countries fight often long and expensive legal battles with the tobacco industry.

The newly created Anti-Tobacco Trade Litigation Fund backed by $4 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was announced Wednesday at the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

In recent years, countries including Uruguay and Australia have been engaged in legal battles with tobacco companies over laws requiring graphic health warning labels or standard packaging for cigarettes without logos. The companies claim the tobacco-control policies violate international trade agreements and World Trade Organization rules.

Bloomberg said the fund will assist smaller, developing countries that often don’t have the resources to compete with tobacco companies.

“We think most of these countries will win these battles but they have to be able to afford some lawyers that have experience in litigating to win,” Bloomberg said in a conference call with reporters.

Officials said the fund is expected to grow as additional donors come on board. Lawyers and other experts will also be tapped for free or discounted work to maximize funding.

Tobacco use kills more than 5 million people each year, according to the World Health Organization. And the group says nearly 80 percent of the world’s 1 billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries.

“This is a public health issue that governments around the world are waking up to and it’s a problem every place and every culture,” said Bloomberg, a billionaire who made his fortune from the global financial data and media company that bears his name. “We don’t think a government should have to choose between investing in its peoples’ future or fighting lawsuits and we think with the right resources they can do both.”

The fund complements the $600 million that Bloomberg Philanthropies has committed to combat tobacco use worldwide since 2007 by helping countries implement tobacco-control policies such as increasing taxes, creating smoke-free public places and banning tobacco advertising. It will be administered by Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which also will coordinate legal resources and other technical assistance.

As mayor, Bloomberg was known for cracking down on tobacco and related products.

Toward the beginning of his time in office, Bloomberg signed the Smoke-Free Air Act, which banned smoking in bars, restaurants and other indoor public spaces. In his last, he signed a bill banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone under age 21.

Bloomberg also pushed a piece of legislation that would have kept cigarettes out of sight in New York City stores, but that proposal was ultimately scrapped.

Electronic cigarettes, which do not contain tobacco, were also targeted. The Smoke-Free Air Act was signed into law during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s last month in office – prohibiting e-cigarettes in all areas where regular cigarettes are banned.

The anti-tobacco conference on the latest developments in global tobacco control efforts will include speeches by Bloomberg, World Health Organization chief Dr. Margaret Chan and Princess Dina Mired, who heads the King Hussein Cancer Foundation of Jordan.

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