Few people today doubt that smoking is bad. But many, including seasoned policy makers, do not realize just how bad it is. Bad for people, bad for economies, and bad for poverty reduction. In fact, tobacco use not only kills millions of people each year but places a staggering poverty and economic burden on low-income families and less-developed countries that is deepening inequalities between and within countries.
A new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) shares some good news: Six in 10 people worldwide are now protected by at least one of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)-recommended demand reduction measures, including taxation. The report, launched on the sidelines of the UN high-level political forum on sustainable development, also makes clear that raising taxes to increase tobacco product prices is the most cost-effective means to reduce tobacco use and prevent initiation among the youth. But it is still one of the least used tobacco control measures.
First confession: I am a seasoned smoker.
Next confession: I have long dreamed of adding “former” to that status. From time to time, my inner struggle reaches a crescendo, but then the momentum vanishes until the next wave of self-examination.
Smoking is the worst, if not the most stupid habit I have. I definitely understand that the damage caused to my health from smoking cannot be undone. I suspect my habit is a bit generational: my father was a smoker – until the doctors came up with a verdict – and the smell of smoke has been at home since my childhood. My son picked it up too, unfortunately. The only change between the generations is that my dad smoked at the table; these days we lean on the balcony.
The accumulated evidence over the past half century on the causal relationship between smoking and harm to health provides us with a robust scientific foundation to inform policy design and action.
The real cost of smoking is high, especially high on your health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco kills around 6 million people each year, out of which 600,000 are the results of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. The cost of smoking is also high on the global economy, as smoking burdens global health systems, hinders economic development, and deprives families of financial resources that could have been spent on education, food, shelter, or other needs.
Tobacco use is the world’s leading underlying cause of preventable death. It contributes to a great number of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which account for 63% of all deaths. Prevention of tobacco use can significantly decrease the number of preventable deaths worldwide, encourage economic development, reduce poverty, encourage healthy lifestyle choices and support Sustainable Development Goals.
In order to prevent and reduce youth tobacco use, in February 2014 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put forward a national public education campaign titled “The Real Cost.” The following video is a part of this campaign:
Since the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) a decade ago, over 180 countries have signed the treaty. Progress has been made in expanding the coverage of effective interventions--more than half of the world’s countries, with 40% of the world’s population have implemented at least one tobacco control measure, and despite increasing global population, smoking prevalence has decreased slightly worldwide from 23% of adults in 2007 to 21% of adults in 2013. How can greater reductions in smoking be achieved in the next decade and contribute to reaching the health and social targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030? We review some key issues in the epidemiology and economics of global tobacco control.
Tobacco is arguably one of the most significant threats to public health we have ever faced. Since the publication of the landmark U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Tobacco and Health in 1964, that provided evidence linking smoking to diseases of nearly all organs of the body (see graph below), the international community slowly began to realize that a century-long epidemic of cigarette smoking was causing an enormous, avoidable public health catastrophe across the world.
The cigarette puffs surrounded the 18-month-old boy as he stood next to his chain-smoking grandparents in the living room, while a 3-year-old girl fetched a can of Pepsi-Cola from the fridge in the kitchen. Just across in the dining area, a 7-month-old boy was being fed a creamy, sugary, chocolate cake, while a bunch of other kids were playing “house” in the front yard by actually eating unlimited number of chocolate bars, cake, and chips while drinking soda.
I could not believe my eyes. Observing these behaviors as a parent myself, it seemed like I was watching the slow death and diseases haunting these children for the rest of their lives.
It has always been like this, but I had never noticed it until I moved out of Iraq and became a parent. I grew up in a place where the unhealthy lifestyle was not a major concern. There are many other, more pressing concerns people there tend to worry about — and rightfully so — than what they eat and drink.
However, what people in my war-torn home country may not realize is that it’s not only car bombs that can kill them. Cigarettes, junk food, and soda can too.