Smoking kills nearly six million people a year, and costs the world more than $1 trillion annually in health care expenses and lost productivity, says a new report published by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Billions of dollars and millions of lives could be saved annually through higher tobacco prices and taxes, according to the WHO report. Besides reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease, such tobacco-control policies could raise large amounts of money for governments to use for health and economic development, the study authors said.
"The economic impact of tobacco on countries, and the general public, is huge, as this new report shows," said Dr. Oleg Chestnov, assistant director-general for non-communicable diseases and mental health at WHO.
"The tobacco industry produces and markets products that kill millions of people prematurely, rob households of finances that could have been used for food and education, and imposes immense health care costs on families, communities and countries," said Mr. Chestnov.
Annual tax revenues from cigarettes globally could increase by 47 percent, or $140 billion, if all countries raised excise taxes by about 80 cents per pack, according to the report. The report authors predict this would raise cigarette retail prices an average of 42 percent, leading to a 9 percent decline in smoking rates and up to 66 million fewer adult smokers.
Poorer countries suffer the greatest burden from tobacco use. There are 1.1 billion smokers age 15 or older worldwide, and 8 out of 10 of them are in low- and middle-income countries, the report noted.
The report confirms that evidence-based tobacco control interventions make sense from an economic as well as a public health standpoint. The report also dispelled tobacco industry’s long-touted claim that tobacco-control measures cause economic harm.
Tobacco is a major cause of non-communicable diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Such preventable diseases account for about 16 million premature deaths (before age 70) worldwide every year. Reducing tobacco is a major part of efforts to lower premature deaths from non-communicable diseases by one-third by 2030.
"Progress is being made in controlling the global tobacco epidemic, but concerted efforts are needed to ensure progress is maintained or accelerated," the report said. "Increasing tobacco use in some regions, and the potential for increase in others, threatens to undermine global progress in tobacco control," the report warned.