Tobacco fact sheet

May 2013


Key facts

  • Tobacco kills up to half of its users.
  • Tobacco kills nearly six million people each year, of whom more than 5 million are users and ex users and more than 600 000 are nonsmokers exposed to second-hand smoke. Unless urgent action is taken, the annual death toll could rise to more than eight million by 2030.
  • Nearly 80% of the world's one billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Consumption of tobacco products is increasing globally, though it is decreasing in some high-income and upper middle-income countries.

Tobacco epidemic in the Western Pacific Region

  • Tobacco use is one of the biggest contributors to the epidemic of noncommunicable disease in the Western Pacific Region.
  • Of the World Health Organization's six regions, the Western Pacific Region has:
    • the greatest number of smokers
    • the highest rates of male smoking prevalence
    • the fastest increase in tobacco uptake by women and young people
  • One in three cigarettes consumed globally is smoked in the Western Pacific Region.
  • It is estimated that two people die each minute from tobacco–related disease in the Region.
  • Unchecked, the tobacco epidemic could undermine other public health gains as well as hamper economic growth and development in the Region.

Second-hand smoke kills

  • Second-hand smoke contains over 7000 chemicals of which 70 are known carcinogens.
  • More than 50% of young people aged 13 to 15 are exposed to second–hand smoke at home, and 64% are exposed to second–hand smoke in public places. Passive or second–hand exposure to tobacco smoke causes 600 000 estimated deaths a year globally.
  • In the Western Pacific Region, it is estimated that more than 50% of men, women and children are regularly exposed to second–hand smoke at home and in public places.

Tobacco's toll on human life

  • After high blood pressure, tobacco use is the biggest contributor to the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases — such as heart attack, stroke, cancer and emphysema — which accounts for 63% of deaths globally.
  • Smokers are more susceptible to certain communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis and pneumonia.
  • No consumer product kills as many people, and as needlessly, as does tobacco. It killed 100 million people in the 20th century. Unless we act, it could kill up to 1 billion people in the 21st century. All of these deaths will have been entirely preventable.
  • Tobacco causes over 20 different diseases, many of them fatal or disabling. It is responsible for over 71% of all cases of lung cancer deaths globally, 42% of chronic respiratory disease deaths and nearly 10% of all deaths from cardiovascular disease.
  • The scourge of tobacco use is entirely preventable.
  • In the past, traditional public health methods for reducing tobacco use such as individual interventions by health professionals was no match for the tobacco industry's power, transnational reach, formidable resources and active promotion of tobacco use.

The poor are most harmed

  • Tobacco use is growing fastest in low- and middle–income countries, owing to steady population growth and tobacco industry targeting. By 2030, more than 80% of the world’s tobacco–related deaths will occur in these countries.
  • In many countries, the percentage of total expenditures allocated for tobacco products was highest for the lowest–income households.
  • Tobacco use can inflict immediate harm on users and their families when scarce family resources are spent on tobacco products instead of other essential needs. Even a small diversion of the resources of poor families who live at or below the edge of poverty can have a significant impact on their health and nutrition.
  • The costs related to tobacco use are significant. Most tobacco–related deaths occur among working–age adults. Those who do not succumb immediately often face prolonged disability. In the low–income countries, where health insurance is scarce or nonexistent, the direct health–care costs are frequently borne entirely by families.
  • The economic impact of early death, disability and lost productivity contributes to the burden of poverty, retarding national development and further widening health inequities. This is especially true in the low- and middle–income countries, where resources for tobacco control are often limited. Therefore, tobacco control is not only a public health priority, but also a key development issue.

Use international law as the basis for national regulation of tobacco

  • The most powerful tool at our disposal is a treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which effectively protects people from the many harms of tobacco.
  • WHO FCTC is the world's answer to the tobacco epidemic. It was developed in response to globalization of the tobacco epidemic and represents a new approach in international health cooperation, using a global legal framework to address a globalized epidemic.
  • The WHO FCTC is the first international treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization to reduce the health and economic burden of tobacco use. The WHO FCTC has 172 176 parties and is within the top three international treaties holding the most memberships (along with Kyoto Protocol and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change).
  • The WHO FCTC calls for banning of all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, providing health warnings, banning sale to minors, protecting people against exposure to second-hand smoke, raising prices and taxes and other measures to regulate tobacco use.
  • The key is full implementation of the WHO FCTC – governments must enact and enforce national laws that are consistent with the provisions of the treaty.
  • Full implementation of the WHO FCTC will save millions of lives of people who would otherwise die prematurely in their productive years.
  • Full implementation of the WHO FCTC will also save billions of dollars that would otherwise be lost through medical expenditures on tobacco–related disease and/or losses in productivity of workers.
  • The biggest barrier to enactment and enforcement of national laws that are consistent with the WHO FCTC is interference of the tobacco industry in public health policy–making. Vigilance and concerted action by governments, civil society and communities are needed to stop this and enable full implementation of the treaty.

The call to action: implement the WHO FCTC

  • Call to governments, to parties to the WHO FCTC:
    Meet all your obligations under the treaty. Pass the necessary national legislation, and then enforce it.
  • Call to civil society and nongovernmental organizations:
    Strongly advocate for full implementation of the WHO FCTC.
  • Call to the public:
    Demand that your governments fully comply with their obligations under the WHO FCTC.
  • Call to WHO, the Conference of the Parties and international partners:
    Fully support countries' implementation of the WHO FCTC and recognize WHO FCTC as a major instrument in the fight against the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases.
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