Tobacco kills up to half of those who use it. Yet tobacco use is common throughout the world due to low prices, aggressive and widespread marketing, lack of awareness about its dangers, and inconsistent public policies against its use.
The tobacco epidemic kills nearly 6 million people a year
This includes more than 600,000 nonsmokers who will die from exposure to tobacco smoke. They die from cancer, heart disease, asthma and other illnesses. Unchecked, that number will increase to more than eight million a year by 2030. Tobacco use is a risk factor for six of the eight leading causes of deaths in the world.
Over 80% of tobacco deaths will occur in the developing world
Tragically, the epidemic is shifting towards the developing world, where more than 80% of tobacco-related deaths will occur within a few decades. The shift is caused by a global tobacco industry marketing strategy that targets young people and adults in developing countries. In addition, because most women currently do not use tobacco, the tobacco industry aggressively reaches out to them to tap into this potential new market.
The tobacco epidemic is preventable
The tobacco epidemic is man-made and entirely preventable. Yet, only less than 10% of the world’s population lives in a country that fully protects its population with any one of the key policy interventions that have significantly reduced tobacco use in the countries that have implemented them.
Six policies to curb the epidemic
The six most effective policies that can curb the tobacco epidemic are outlined in WHO’s MPOWER strategy:
Monitoring tobacco use and prevention
Protecting people from tobacco smoke
Offering help to quit tobacco use
Warning people about the dangers of tobacco
Enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
Raising taxes on tobacco
MPOWER policy 1: monitoring tobacco use and prevention
Assessment of tobacco use and its impact must be strengthened. Currently, half of the countries in the world – two out of three in the developing world – do not have even minimal data about youth and adult tobacco use.
MPOWER policy 2: protecting people from tobacco smoke
More than half of countries worldwide, accounting for nearly two thirds of the population of the world, allow smoking in government offices, work spaces and other indoor settings. Smoke-free policies in the workplaces of several industrialized nations have reduced total tobacco consumption among employees by an average of 29%.
MPOWER policy 3: offering help to quit tobacco use
Among smokers who are aware of the dangers of tobacco, three out of four want to quit. Comprehensive services to treat tobacco dependence are available to only 5% of the world’s population. It is difficult for tobacco users to quit on their own and most people benefit from help and support to overcome their dependence. Countries’ health-care systems hold the primary responsibility for treating tobacco dependence.
MPOWER policy 4: warning about the dangers of tobacco
Graphic warnings on tobacco product packaging deter tobacco use, yet only 15 countries, representing 6% of the world’s population, mandate pictorial warnings that cover at least 30% of the principal surface area.
More than 40% of the world’s population live in countries that do not prevent the use of misleading and deceptive packaging terms such as “light” and “low-tar” – none of which actually signify any reduction in health risk.
MPOWER policy 5: enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
About half of the children of the world live in countries that do not ban free distribution of tobacco products. National-level studies before and after advertising bans found a decline in tobacco consumption of up to 16% following prohibitions.
MPOWER policy 6: raising taxes on tobacco products
Increasing tobacco taxes by 10% generally decreases tobacco consumption by 4% in high-income countries and by about 8% in low- and middle-income countries. A 70% increase in the price of tobacco would prevent up to a quarter of all tobacco-related deaths among today’s smokers.