New WHO Report: Tobacco Takes Away $1 Trillion and 8 Million Lives Each Year

Health experts unveiled worrisome statistics about one of the biggest preventable causes of death worldwide, tobacco. According to a recent study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Cancer Institute, the habit of smoking tobacco is costing the global economy more than a whopping $1 trillion a year and will kill about 8 million people annually in the future because governments are not investing enough effort to assuage the prevalence and impact of this global epidemic.

The WHO study estimates the global costs of smoking to exceed $1 trillion owing to associated health expenses. This is almost four times the global tobacco tax revenues from 2013 to 2014 – $269 billion, according to the WHO. Dr. Oleg Chestnov, Assistant Director-General of NCDs (Noncommunicable diseases) and Mental Health at the WHO, says that besides killing people prematurely, smoking is taking away too much financial resources from more important things such as food and education.

Human costs are projected to rise significantly. The number of tobacco related deaths per year will have increased by one third by 2030 — 8 million fatalities compared to the current 6 million. This scenario is will affect low-to-middle income countries to a greater extent since 80% of the world’s smokers live in these areas. There are 1.1 billion smokers in the world, and the number keeps growing.

The report highlights how governments are failing to take advantage of easy solutions to reduce the rate of diseases associated with smoking. Many such policies are easy and cheap to implement, but governments haven’t been enforcing them with enough determination owing to fears that they may adversely affect the economies.

WHO argues that this fear is largely unfounded, counter-arguing that the adoption of stronger tobacco control methods, such as an increase in taxation and price, could generate substantial “governmental revenue for health and development work,” as well as help reduce the incidence of associated diseases.

In 2012, Australia legally enforced the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act — a set of rigid laws on tobacco packaging, aiming to deter smokers through off-putting graphic images on smoking products. The measure received strong support from the WHO, but it is causing turmoil in the tobacco industry and several developing countries owing to fears of an economic jab. Many countries intend to follow the Australian government’s example. France became the second country in the world to adopt a tobacco plain packaging policy on January 1st, 2017. More are expected to follow in the future.

The nearly 700-page report is one of the largest ever done on the global impact of tobacco, and largely corroborates the findings from the previous Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) and the Global Tobacco Epidemic report, 2015. Dr Douglas Bettcher believes that the new report can help authorities take action against the problem of tobacco. The habit of smoking tobacco is a major risk factor for many fatal diseases in the world. According to the WHO, it caused 100 million deaths in the 20th century.