•Tobacco kills up to half of its users.
•Tobacco kills more than 8 million people each year. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.
•Over 80% of the world's 1.3 billion tobacco users live in low- and middle-income countries.
Leading cause of death, illness and impoverishment
The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than 8 million people a year around the world. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.(1)
All forms of tobacco are harmful, and there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco. Cigarette smoking is the most common form of tobacco use worldwide. Other tobacco products include waterpipe tobacco, various smokeless tobacco products, cigars, cigarillos, roll-your-own tobacco, pipe tobacco, bidis and kreteks.
Waterpipe tobacco use is damaging to health in similar ways to cigarette tobacco use. However, the health dangers of waterpipe tobacco use are often little understood by users.
Smokeless tobacco use is highly addictive and damaging to health. Smokeless tobacco contains many cancer-causing toxins and its use increases the risk of cancers of the head, neck, throat, oesophagus and oral cavity (including cancer of the mouth, tongue, lip and gums) as well as various dental diseases.
Over 80% of the 1.3 billion tobacco users worldwide live in low- and middle-income countries, where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest. Tobacco use contributes to poverty by diverting household spending from basic needs such as food and shelter to tobacco.
The economic costs of tobacco use are substantial and include significant health care costs for treating the diseases caused by tobacco use as well as the lost human capital that results from tobacco-attributable morbidity and mortality.
In some countries children from poor households are employed in tobacco farming to boost family income. Tobacco growing farmers are also exposed to a number of health risks, including the "green tobacco sickness".
Surveillance is key
Effective monitoring tracks the extent and character of the tobacco epidemic and indicates how best to implement policies.
Key measures to reduce the demand for tobacco
Second-hand smoke kills
•Second-hand smoke is the smoke that fills enclosed spaces when people burn tobacco products such as cigarettes, bidis and water-pipes.
•There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke, which causes more than 1.2 million premature deaths per year and serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
•Almost half of children regularly breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke in public places, and 65 000 die each year from illnesses attributable to second-hand smoke.
•In infants, it raises the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. In pregnant women, it causes pregnancy complications and low birth weight.
•Smoke-free laws protect the health of non-smokers and are popular, as they do not harm business and they encourage smokers to quit.
Pictorial health warnings work
•Large pictorial or graphic health warnings, including plain packaging, with hard hitting messages can persuade smokers to protect the health of non-smokers by not smoking inside the home, increase compliance with smoke-free laws and encourage more people to quit tobacco use.
•Studies show that pictorial warnings significantly increase people's awareness of the harms from tobacco use.
•Mass media campaigns can also reduce demand for tobacco by promoting the protection of non-smokers and by convincing people to stop using tobacco.
Bans on tobacco advertising lower consumption
•Comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship can reduce tobacco consumption.
•A comprehensive ban covers both direct and indirect varieties of promotion.
°Direct forms include, among others, advertising on television, radio, print publications, billboards and more recently in various social media platforms.
°Indirect forms include, among others, brand sharing, brand stretching, free distribution, price discounts, point of sale product displays, sponsorships and promotional activities masquerading as corporate social responsibility programmes.
Taxes are effective in reducing tobacco use
•Tobacco taxes are the most cost-effective way to reduce tobacco use and health care costs, especially among youth and low-income people, while increasing revenue in many countries.
•The tax increases need to be high enough to push prices up above income growth. An increase of tobacco prices by 10% decreases tobacco consumption by about 4% in high-income countries and about 5% in low- and middle-income countries.
•Despite this, introducing high tobacco taxes is a measure that is least implemented among the set of available tobacco control measures.
Link to world Health Organization: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs339/en/