According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco use is one of the biggest public health threats in the world.

Tobacco use kills more than 7 million people a year and costs households and governments more than $1.4 trillion in health care costs and productivity loss. Tobacco also causes 16 percent of all noncommunicable disease deaths, said the organization in a news release on Tuesday, a day before World No Tobacco Day.

Tobacco use also poisons the environment. Waste from tobacco contains more than 7,000 toxic chemicals, harming the environment. Emissions from tobacco smoke also add to the thousands of human carcinogens, toxicants and greenhouse gases already in the environment.

Additionally, tobacco waste creates the most litter around the world. Up to 10 billion of the 15 billion cigarettes sold on a daily basis are disposed into the environment. 30-40% of items collected in coastal and city cleanups are cigarette butts.

WHO stated that tobacco threatens livelihoods as well. Approximately 860 million adult smokers live in low and middle-income countries. Consequentially, they often spend more than 10 percent of their income on tobacco. This leaves them less money for essential expenses, such as food, health care and education.

Even more, tobacco farming harms women and children. 10-14% of children from tobacco-growing families miss school because they are working in tobacco fields, hindering their education. Women make up 60-70% of tobacco farm workers, exposing them to hazardous chemicals.

With this, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Smoking causes more than 480,000 reported deaths – nearly one in five deaths – every year. Around 16 million Americans suffer from at least one disease caused by tobacco use. This leads to about $170 billion in direct medical costs.

According to 2015 data, 31.4 percent of U.S. of high school students reported using a tobacco product. 10.8 percent of these students specifically reported smoking cigarettes.

“Tobacco threatens us all,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan. “Tobacco exacerbates poverty, reduces economic productivity, contributes to poor household food choices, and pollutes indoor air.”

“But by taking robust tobacco control measures, governments can safeguard their countries’ futures by protecting tobacco users and non-users from these deadly products, generating revenues to fund health and other social services, and saving their environments from the ravages tobacco causes,” continued Chan.

To reduce tobacco use, all of the countries in WHO have committed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which strives to ameliorate universal peace and fight against poverty. The agenda will specifically implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. By 2030, WHO aims to reduce premature death from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) — including heart and lung diseases, cancer, and diabetes for which tobacco use is a key risk factor — by one third.

On the national level, “many governments are taking action against tobacco, from banning advertising and marketing, to introducing plain packaging for tobacco products, and smoke-free work and public places,” said Dr. Oleg Chestnov, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for NCDS and Mental Health.

“But one of the least used, but most effective tobacco control measures to help countries address development needs is through increasing tobacco tax and prices,” continued Chestnov.

Each year governments from around the world make about US $270 billion in tobacco excise tax revenue; however, this could increase by over 50 percent, or US $141 billion, if taxes on cigarettes increased by just US $0.80 per pack in all countries. This increased revenue would create the fiscal space needed for countries to meet 2030 Agenda development priorities.

“Tobacco is a major barrier to development globally,” said Director of WHO’s Department for the Prevention on NCDs Dr. Douglas Bettcher. “Tobacco-related death and illness are drivers of poverty, leaving households without breadwinners, diverting limited household resources to purchase tobacco products rather than food and school materials, and forcing many people to pay for medical expenses.”

“But action to control it will provide countries with a powerful tool to protect their citizens and futures,” added Bettcher.

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