Tobacco kills 8 million people worldwide each year, mainly in low- and middle-income countries where 80% of the world’s smokers live. However, not only smokers are at risk, second-hand smoking causes 1.2 million deaths per year. Tobacco use is a leading cause of multiple cancers such as oral cancers, lung, liver, stomach, bowel and ovarian cancers, as well as some types of leukemia. Quitting at any age can make an immense difference for the user, increasing life expectancy and improving the quality of life.
In addition, tobacco has a negative impact on economies due to illicit trade, climate change and pollution; and is linked to human rights abuses and child labour.
Tobacco use burdens the global economy with an estimated US$ 1.4 trillion in healthcare costs and lost productivity each year.
Tobacco control aims at reducing the use of tobacco and the serious health risks and mortality it causes through policies, laws and education. It has long been a priority of UICC’s advocacy efforts in collaboration with members and partners. Tobacco control is also one of the 16 essential health services monitored by the World Health Organization (WHO) to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
“It is essential for the promotion of better health as part of UHC that people understand the risk of smoking and tobacco use. Governments and policy makers have a clear responsibility to protect them from harm caused by tobacco.”
– Sonali Johnson, Head of Knowledge, Advocacy and Policy, Union for International Cancer Control (UICC)
In order to stop the global tobacco epidemic, an international treaty entered into force in 2005: the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). WHO defines it as “an evidence-based treaty that reaffirms the right of all people to the highest standard of health. There are currently 180 parties to the convention. The treaty deals with topics such as demand-side reduction measures, supply-side reduction measures, protection of the environment, protection from tobacco industry interests, implementation of multi-sectoral tobacco control strategies, nicotine addiction and exposure to second-hand smoke, public awareness, illicit trade and measures such as tax increases or ban advertising.
UICC and its members help with the implementation of the FCTC by encouraging governments and policy makers to adopt and effectively implement the WHO FCTC treaty and by raising awareness of the risks related to the use of tobacco.
The tobacco industry continues to promote tobacco use with very strong and powerful marketing campaigns targeted particularly at youth populations. It is therefore very important to counter the dissemination of misinformation and to raise awareness about this complex topic encompassing several health and socio-economic domains. This includes education about e-cigarettes and emerging heated tobacco products.
UICC is concerned by the rise in the prevalence of youth vaping and calls for strict regulation of the ingredients, age limits and other aspects related to the sales and distribution of e-cigarettes. There is a growing body of research that shows that they are unhealthy products designed to be addictive and facilitate first-time tobacco smoking.
UICC will focus its efforts in three key areas:
Tax increase has been linked to a decrease in smoking prevalence in countries at all income levels. A 10% increase in price, for instance, leads to a 4-5% decrease in cigarette demand, making them less affordable to smokers particularly in low-income settings. Between 2008 and 2020, the number of countries applying the recommended 75% excise tax on retail price rose from 23 to 40, covering one billion people. Unfortunately, many governments are still reluctant to increase taxes because the tobacco lobby claims that tax increases will cause declines in revenues or an increase in illicit trade.
Banning advertising, promotion and marketing has been shown to lower the consumption of tobacco products. There are direct forms of promotion via television, radio, press and social media; and indirect via activities such as free distribution, discounts, sponsorships and corporate social responsibility programmes. Every year, the tobacco industry spends millions in advertising and marketing.* For instance, in 2017, the industry spent 1million USD per hour in the US alone to maintain their consumer basis, discouraging smokers to quit and recruiting new users. By banning tobacco advertisement, we can prevent tobacco consumption being seen as a social norm. This also includes a ban on the marketing of e-cigarettes to youth.
Second-hand smoke kills 1.2 million people per year. Children and teenagers are particularly sensitive to it - 65’000 children die each year from diseases attributable to second-hand smoke. Smoke-free laws are relatively easy to implement and generally well accepted by the public. Smoke free public places do not harm businesses including the hospitality sector. However, only 24% of the world’s population is protected by complete smoking bans in public places, workplaces, and on public transport.* Implementing and developing smoke-free areas also helps smokers to quit.
*WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, 2021.