Tobacco will kill a billion people this century

Tobacco-related deaths have almost tripled in the last decade to almost 50m.

A report warns if current trends continue, 1bn people will die from tobacco use and exposure this century — one person every six seconds.

The fourth edition of the Tobacco Atlas, unveiled yesterday by the World Lung Foundation and American Cancer Society, graphically details the scale of the tobacco epidemic.

Tobacco is a risk factor for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases that account for more than 63% of deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.

The Tobacco Atlas shows tobacco use is now the number one killer in China, causing 1.2m deaths every year, a figure that is expected to increase to 3.5m annually by 2030.

Tobacco is also responsible for the greatest proportion of male deaths in Turkey (38%) and Kazakhstan (35%) and the greatest proportion of female deaths in the Maldives (25%) and the US (23%).

More than 43trn cigarettes have been smoked in the last 10 years and cigarette production has increased by 16.5% over that period, according to the Tobacco Atlas.

However, the tobacco industry has increased its efforts to combat demand reduction efforts, launching legal challenges in every region of the world.

Since 2008, the industry had made efforts to delay or stop plain packaging, smoke-free legislation, advertising bans, and graphic warnings on packets.

Chief executive of the World Lung Foundation, Peter Baldini, accused the tobacco industry of using misinformation to subvert health policies that could save millions of lives.

According to the report, the industry has stepped up its fight against anti-tobacco policies, launching legal challenges and seeking to delay or stop the introduction of plain packaging, legislation banning smoking in public places, advertising bans and health warnings on packets.

It also points out that the world’s six biggest tobacco firms made $35.1bn (€26.5bn) in profits in 2010 — equal to the combined earnings of Coca-Cola, Microsoft and McDonalds.

More than 170 countries, including Ireland, have signed up to a WHO-led convention committing them to cut smoking rates, limiting exposure to second-hand smoke and curbing tobacco advertising and promotion.

In Mar 2004, Ireland became the first country in the world to institute a nationwide comprehensive smoke-free workplace.

In Jul 2009, Ireland prohibited in-store tobacco advertising and displays of tobacco products at retail outlets and new controls on tobacco vending machines.

The Tobacco Atlas shows almost 80% of those who die from tobacco-related illnesses are in low and middle income families.

Also, in 2009, six of the top 10 tobacco producing countries had malnourishment rates of between 5% and 27%.

WHO director general Margaret Chan said the tobacco industry must never be allowed to get the upper hand. “Tobacco is a killer,” she said. “It should not be advertised, subsidised or glamorised.”

Speaking at a conference on tobacco and health in Singapore, Ms Chan said moves by cigarette firms to challenge the legality of government measures to protect public health amounted to interference in countries’ domestic affairs.

Ms Chan, a former Hong Kong health chief, who was elected to the WHO’s top post in Nov 2006, said legal actions filed by tobacco companies against Uruguay, Norway, Australia and Turkey were designed to weaken their resolve to control tobacco use.

Many leading cigarette companies say they back greater regulation but warn too much strict action will force smokers to buy from the black market which cannot be monitored.

* www.tobaccoatlas.org.

Up in smoke

Ireland: Facts from the Tobacco Atlas:

* Male deaths: 22%.

* Female deaths: 22%.

* Per capita cigarette consumption: 1,006.

* Male current cigarette use: 31%.

* Female current cigarette use: 26%.

* Average price of 20 pack: €8.90.

* Excise tax as percentage of cigarette price: 61.6%.

* Illicit share of market: 33.2%.


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