During the last decade 4 almost 50 million people have died from tobacco usage, and annual revenues of the global tobacco industry have increased to US $ 35 billion. These and other startling revelations were unveiled in the fourth edition of the Tobacco Atlas which was launched today, (21st March, 2012), a little while ago, at the 15th World Congress on Tobacco OrHealth being held in Singapore.
The Atlas makes some very pertinent points about the death and economic destruction caused by tobacco. Tobacco use killed some 6 million people in 2011, with 80% of these deaths occurring in low and middle income countries. Apart from being responsible for 15% of all male and 7% of all female deaths globally, tobacco is also a risk factor for the four leading non communicable diseases - Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases – which account for more than 63% of global deaths according to the World Health Organization. Tobacco use is the number one killer in China, causing 1.2 million deaths annually. Uniquely among cancer-causing agents, however, tobacco is a man-made problem that is completely preventable through proven public policies. Effective measures include tobacco taxes, advertising bans, smoke free public places, mass media campaigns and effective health warnings. These cost-effective policies are included in the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), a global treaty endorsed by more than 174 countries, and recommended by the World Health Organization in its MPOWER policy package.
Ironically, countries do not profit economically from tobacco production and consumption – in fact, they suffer financial harm. The direct costs arise from healthcare expenditures for treating smoking-related illnesses and indirect costs that include the value of lost productivity and cost of premature deaths caused by smoking-related illnesses can cripple economies. In the last 10 years, more than 43 trillion cigarettes have been smoked and cigarette production has increased by 16.5. Annual cigarette consumption has also increased significantly. In 2010, the combined profits of the six leading tobacco companies was U.S. $35.1 billion, which is equal to the combined profits of Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and McDonald’s in the same year. Keeping in mind the number of tobacco related deaths caused in 2010, one infers that the tobacco industry realizes almost $6,000 in profit for each death caused by its products.
The tobacco industry has increased its efforts to combat demand reduction efforts, launching legal challenges in every region of the world. Since 2008, they have worked to delay or stop plain packaging, smoke free legislation, advertising bans and graphic pack warnings. In addition, the industry has sought to subvert existing tobacco control legislation by introducing new smokeless products, often bearing the same branding as existing cigarette brands, and the use of the Internet and new media, where over 70% of analysed content has been identified as pro-tobacco.
It would be worthwhile to mention that in 2009, six of the top ten tobacco producing countries had malnourishment rates between 5% and 27%. In low resource countries, only US$0.0001 is spent on tobacco control per capita. 39% of countries – predominantly low and middle income countries – do not provide cessation support services in the offices of health professionals.
“The tobacco industry thrives on ignorance of the true harms of tobacco and using misinformation to subvert health policies that could save millions.” said Peter Baldini, chief executive officer, World Lung Foundation. “The Tobacco Atlas graphically illustrates the human toll and massive scale of the tobacco epidemic, breaking the best and most recent evidence out of the research world for an audience that can affect change. We urge advocates, media, governments and health professionals to use the available data to expose the deadly harms of tobacco and the industry that benefits from those harms.”