TOBACCO use costs the world more than $1 trillion annually in health care costs and lost productivity, with the biggest economic burden being borne by low- and middle-income countries, a joint report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) said.
“The Economics of Tobacco and Tobacco Control” was described as the first comprehensive review of the economic impact of global tobacco use and control efforts in nearly 20 years.
The major conclusions of the report were that tobacco use does not contribute to economic development, but rather burdens countries with more than $1 trillion a year in health care costs and lost productivity, while measures to reduce tobacco use are highly cost-effective and do not harm economies.
In terms of demographics, the report showed that about 1.1 billion people worldwide are smokers, with the vast majorit—about 80 percent—concentrated in low- and middle-income countries. Of those, almost half live in the Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions.
Although overall smoking prevalence is declining, the WHO/NCI report pointed out that the number of smokers is not, and that the reduction in smoking prevalence is simply due to an increase in total population.
“Unless stronger action is taken, it is unlikely the world will reach the WHO Member States’ 30 percent global reduction target by 2025,” the report said.
Annually, about six million people die annually from diseases caused by tobacco use, and that figure is expected to rise to about eight million people per year—including about 600,000 per year from the effects of secondhand smoke—by 2030. About 80 percent of those deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, in line with the percentage of tobacco users, the report added.
The report also found that even though approximately $269 billion per year in tobacco excise taxes are collected globally, governments on average spend less than $1 billion combined annually on tobacco control measures.
Control measures such as increasing taxes do not have an adverse economic impact on countries, the report said, pointing out that increasing taxes did not lead to net job losses in any of the countries that imposed higher taxes.
“Additionally, significant increases in tax and price lead to greater reductions in tobacco use among the poor than among the rich, and thus contribute to reducing health disparities,” the report said.
“However, the vast majority of the world’s population is still not adequately covered by the most effective of these interventions, including sufficiently high levels of tobacco taxation, comprehensive smoke-free policies, complete bans on tobacco marketing, information interventions, and cessation support,” it added.
The report was hailed by anti-tobacco advocates, who echoed the recommendations of the WHO and NCI to expand and provide more funding for tobacco control programs. In a statement emailed to The Manila Times, Matthew L. Myers, president of the US-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said, “The report finds that higher tobacco taxes and prices reduce health disparities because they lead to greater reductions in tobacco use among the poor. Contrary to the claims of the tobacco industry, it is tobacco use – and not tobacco taxes – that disproportionately harms poor people.”
Myers added, “This report reminds us that while tremendous progress has been made in reducing tobacco use, urgent and sustained global action is needed to prevent tobacco use from killing one billion people worldwide this century.”