Tobacco kills six million people annually – WHO report

About six million people die annually as a result of tobacco use, with most living in developing countries, a joint report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Cancer Institute of the United States of America has revealed.

The report released Wednesday by WHO Communications Officer, Tarik Jašarević, said policies to control tobacco use, including tobacco tax and price increases, could generate significant government revenues for health and development work.

It said such measures could also greatly reduce tobacco use and protect people’s health from the world’s leading killers, like cancers and heart disease.

It said left unchecked, the tobacco industry and the deadly impact of its products cost the world’s economies more than one trillion dollars annually in healthcare expenditures and lost productivity, according to findings published in “The Economics of Tobacco and Tobacco Control”.

The almost 700-page monograph examines existing evidence on two broad areas: The economics of tobacco control, including tobacco use and growing, manufacturing and trade, taxes and prices, control policies and other interventions to reduce tobacco use and its consequences; and the economic implications of global tobacco control efforts.

“The economic impact of tobacco on countries and the general public is huge, as this new report shows,” said Dr Oleg Chestnov, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and mental health.

“The tobacco industry produces and markets products that kill millions of people prematurely, rob households of finances that could have been used for food and education, and impose immense health care costs on families, communities and countries,” he added. 

The report indicates that globally, there are 1.1 billion tobacco smokers aged 15 or older, with around 80 per cent living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs); stating that approximately 226 million smokers live in poverty.

The monograph, citing a 2016 study, states that annual excise revenues from cigarettes globally could increase by 47 percent, or $ 140 billion, if all countries raised excise taxes by about $ 0.80 per pack.

It said additionally, this tax increase would raise cigarette retail prices on average by 42 percent, leading to a nine per cent decline in smoking rates and up to 66 million fewer adult smokers.

“The research summarised in this monograph confirms that evidence-based tobacco control interventions make sense from an economic as well as a public health standpoint,” said the monograph’s co-editor, Distinguished Professor Frank Chaloupka, of the Department of Economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The monograph’s major conclusions include the global health and economic burden of tobacco use is enormous and is increasingly borne by low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). 

It said effective policy and programmatic interventions exist to reduce demand for tobacco products and the death, disease, and economic costs resulting from their use, but these interventions are underused.

Dr Douglas Bettcher, WHO Director for the prevention of NCDs, says the new report gives governments a powerful tool to combat tobacco industry claims controls on tobacco products adversely impact economies. 

“This report shows how lives can be saved and economies can prosper when governments implement cost-effective, proven measures, like significantly increasing taxes and prices on tobacco products, and banning tobacco marketing and smoking in public,” he said.

The report said tobacco control is a key component of WHO’s global response to the epidemic of NCDs, primarily cardiovascular disease, cancers, chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and diabetes.

It said NCDs account for the deaths of around 16 million people prematurely (before their 70th birthdays) every year. 

The report said reducing tobacco use plays a major role in global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of reducing premature deaths from NCDs by one-third by 2030.