WHO updates fact sheet on Tobacco (6 July 2015)

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently updated the fact sheet on tobacco.

Key Messages:

Tobacco is a leading cause of death, illness and impoverishment

  • Tobacco kills up to 50% of its users.
  • The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced.
  • Each year, 6 million people die due to tobacco. More than 5 million of those deaths are due to direct tobacco use, while more than 600,000 deaths are on account of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.
  • 1 billion of the world’s people are smokers. 80% of them live in low and middle-income countries. The burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest in these countries.
  • Premature death due to tobacco deprives families of income, raises the cost of health care and hinders economic development.

Second-hand smoke Kills

  • There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke
  • In adults, second-hand smoke causes serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
  • In pregnant women, it causes low birth weight.
  • In infants, it causes sudden death. In 2004, children accounted for 28% of the deaths attributable to second-hand smoke.

Tobacco users need help to quit

  • Few people understand the specific health risks of tobacco use- A survey in China (2009) revealed that only 38% of smokers knew that smoking causes coronary heart disease; and only 275 knew that it causes stroke.
  • Most smokers aware of the dangers of tobacco want to quit.
  • Counselling and medication can more than double the chance that a smoker who tries to quit will succeed.
  • There is no cessation assistance of any kind in 25% of low-income countries.

Picture warnings work

  • Hard-hitting an-tobacco advertisements and graphic pack warnings- especially those that include pictures- reduce the number of children who begin smoking and increases the number of smokers who quit.
  • Pictorial warnings significantly increase people’s awareness of the harms of tobacco use.

Ad bans lower consumption

  • Bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship can reduce tobacco consumption.
  • A comprehensive ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship could decrease tobacco consumption by 7% (average)-16%.
  • Around 1/3rd of all countries have minimal or no restrictions at all on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

Taxes discourage tobacco use

  • Increasing taxes on tobacco products is the most cost-effective way to reduce tobacco use, especially among young and poor people.
  • A 10% increase in tobacco prices decreases tobacco consumption by 4% in high-income countries, and 5% in low and middle-income countries.
  • However, high tobacco taxes is a measure that is rarely implemented- only 33 countries (10% of the world’s population) have introduced taxes so that more than 75% of the retail price is tax.
  • On average, revenues from tobacco taxes are 269 times higher than spending on tobacco control.

Illicit trade of tobacco products must be stopped

  • It is estimated that 10% of all tobacco products consumed globally are illicit.
  • Eliminating illicit trade in tobacco will reduce the harmful consumption of tobacco by restricting availability of cheap, unregulated alternatives and increasing overall tobacco prices.
  • Critically, this will reduce premature deaths from tobacco use and raise tax revenue for governments.

Useful Links:

Link to the updated fact sheet:


Link to the WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2015 (released 7 July 2015):


Link to the Executive Summary of the above Report:


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