SMOKING and other tobacco use kills more than 7 million people each year, the World Health Organization said yesterday as it also warned of the dire environmental impact of tobacco production, distribution and waste.
The UN agency said tougher measures were needed to rein in tobacco use, urging countries to ban smoking in the workplace and indoor public spaces, outlaw marketing of tobacco products and raise cigarette prices.
“Tobacco threatens us all,” WHO chief Margaret Chan said in a statement.
“Tobacco exacerbates poverty, reduces economic productivity, contributes to poor household food choices, and pollutes indoor air,” she said.
In a report released ahead of today’s World No Tobacco Day, WHO warned that the annual death toll of 7 million people had jumped from 4 million at the turn of the century, making tobacco the world’s single biggest cause of preventable death.
The death toll is expected to keep rising, with the organization bracing for more than 1 billion deaths this century.
“By 2030, more than 80 percent of the deaths will occur in developing countries, which have been increasingly targeted by tobacco companies seeking new markets to circumvent tightening regulation in developed nations,” the statement said.
Tobacco use also brings an economic cost. WHO estimates it drains more than US$1.4 trillion from households and governments each year in health care expenditure and lost productivity, or nearly 2 percent of the global gross domestic product.
In addition to the health and economic costs linked to smoking, the WHO report for the first time delved into the environmental impact of everything from tobacco production to the cigarette butts and other waste produced by smokers.
“From start to finish, the tobacco life cycle is an overwhelmingly polluting and damaging process,” Assistant Director-General Oleg Chestnov said.
The report detailed how growing tobacco often requires large quantities of fertilizers and pesticides, and it warned that tobacco farming had become the main cause of deforestation in several countries.
This is largely due to the amount of wood needed for curing tobacco, with estimates that one tree is needed for every 300 cigarettes produced. The WHO also highlighted the pollution generated during the production, transport and distribution of tobacco products.
The report estimates that the industry emits nearly 4 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year — the same as around 3 million transatlantic flights.
Waste from the process contains over 7,000 toxic chemicals that poison the environment, including human carcinogens, the WHO said.
Once in the hands of the consumer, tobacco smoke emissions spewed out thousands of tons of human carcinogens, toxic substances and greenhouse gases.
Cigarette butts and other tobacco waste make up the largest number of individual pieces of litter in the world, the agency said. Two thirds of the 15 billion cigarettes sold each day are thrown onto the street or elsewhere, it said, adding that butts account for up to 40 percent of all items collected in coastal and urban clean-ups.
The agency urged governments to take strong measures to rein in tobacco use. “One of the least used, but most effective tobacco control measures is through increasing tobacco tax and prices,” Chestnov said.