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New Tobacco Atlas Details Harms of Tobacco ‘Epidemic’

More than 5.8 trillion cigarettes smoked in 2014

The Tobacco Atlas, Fifth Edition, and its companion mobile app and website TobaccoAtlas.org, were unveiled March 19 by the American Cancer Society and the World Lung Foundation at the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health. The Atlas details the scale of the current tobacco “epidemic;” the harmful influence of tobacco on health, poverty, social justice, and the environment; the progress being made in tobacco control; and the latest products and tactics being used by the industry to protect its profits and to delay tobacco control.

The Atlas’s authors conclude that the battle against tobacco has reached a critical stage:

  • The tobacco industry is committing unprecedented resources to interfere with efforts to introduce, implement, and enforce tobacco control.
  • The increase in tobacco users in the world’s most populous countries is outpacing the global effect of tobacco control. There are now more than 1 billion smokers in the world.
  • More than 300 million people use smokeless tobacco, and the use of other alternative tobacco products, such as water pipes, is growing.
  • Over 5.8 trillion cigarettes were smoked worldwide in 2014.
  • The progress made in “de-normalizing” smoking may be reversed by the increasing prevalence of e-cigarettes and other alternative tobacco products.
  • Tobacco is killing as many as two-thirds of users.

The Atlas details the extent of the tobacco industry’s tactics to influence or derail regulation. Among the top six transnational tobacco companies –– accounting for 85% of all cigarettes smoked globally –– profits have reached US $44.1 billion or around US $7,000 for every tobacco-related death, up from US $6,000 per death when the last edition of the Atlas was published in 2012.

Tobacco use costs the global economy more than US $1 trillion, according to the Atlas, and may have an economic impact of as much as US $2.1 trillion, according to other sources. Negative economic, social, and environmental consequences of tobacco include:

  • Development funding is going up in smoke. In 2012, low- and middle-income countries received a total of US $133 billion in development aid while spending more than double that amount, US $350 billion, on tobacco products.
  • Female tobacco use has increased the rates of lung cancer so that it now kills more women than breast cancer; there are 24 countries where girls smoke more than boys compared with just two countries where more women smoke than men.
  • Maternal tobacco use causes health harms and increases the lifetime risk of health conditions for infants and children.

The Atlas’ authors conclude that “bolder, faster action” is needed to reduce tobacco use:

  • Governments should re-invest income from tobacco taxes. An estimated 0.69% of tobacco excise-tax revenue is spent on tobacco control, and 96% of that in high-income countries.
  • Governments should enact and enforce comprehensive tobacco control measures at the highest levels of best practice.
  • Governments should implement comprehensive tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship (TAPS) bans. The Atlas shows that one-third of youth experimentation with tobacco occurs as a result of exposure to tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, and that 78% of youth worldwide report regular exposure to such tobacco marketing.
  • All governments should legislate to introduce best-practice large graphic pack warnings and are encouraged to follow Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom in legislating for plain packaging.
  • Greater use should be made of mass and social media to educate, inform, and encourage quitting.
  • Health experts, tobacco users, and governments cannot assume that e-cigarettes will help end the tobacco epidemic. Nearly half of U.S. adult e-cigarette users are dual users, and youth uptake is of real concern from a health and “gateway” perspective.

Sources: ACS; March 19, 2015; and Tobacco Atlas; 2015.

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