Bulletin of the World Health Organization

July 2013: Tobacco control policies stop people smoking and save lives

NOTICE TO READERS: The Bulletin of the World Health Organization was created by WHO as a forum for public health experts to publish their findings, express their views and engage a wider audience on critical public health issues of the day. Consequently, the views expressed by the writers in these pages do not necessarily represent the views of WHO.

Note for the Media

Tobacco control measures in place in 41 countries between 2007 and 2010 will prevent some 7.4 million premature deaths by 2050, according to a study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization today.

The study is one of the first to look at the effect of measures on lives saved since the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) was established in 2005. It is important because it demonstrates the success of the WHO FCTC in reducing tobacco use and, thus, saving lives.

“It’s a spectacular finding that by implementing these simple tobacco control policies, governments can save so many lives,” said lead author Professor David Levy from Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University in Washington DC.

In 2008, WHO identified six evidence-based tobacco control measures that are the most effective in reducing tobacco use, and started to provide technical support to help countries fulfil their WHO FCTC obligations.

Known as “MPOWER”, these measures correspond to one or more of the demand reduction provisions included in the WHO FCTC: Monitoring tobacco use and prevention policies, Protecting people from tobacco smoke, Offering help to quit tobacco use, Warning people about the dangers of tobacco, Enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, Promotion and sponsorship, and Raising taxes on tobacco.

The authors of the study did a modeling exercise and projected the number of premature deaths that would be averted by 2050 through the implementation of one or more of these measures.

The study focused on the 41 countries (two of which are not Parties to the WHO FCTC) that had implemented the demand reduction measures at “the highest level of achievement”, that is at a level proven to attain the greatest impact.

These countries represented nearly one billion people (one thousand million) or one seventh of the world’s population of 6.9 billion in 2008. The total number of smokers in those countries was nearly 290 million in 2007.

Of the 41 countries, 33 had put in place one MPOWER measure and the remaining eight had implemented more than one.

Given that one in every two smokers dies prematurely from smoking-related diseases, the authors calculated that the selected MPOWER measures taken in the 41 countries would prevent the premature deaths of half of the 14.8 million smokers who quit – that is 7.4 million people – by 2050.

Almost half of the averted deaths would be attributable to increased cigarette taxes (3.5 million), the study showed.

The total number of deaths prevented, as calculated, does not take into account that some smokers will have quit in the absence of strong tobacco control policies, but it also omits the additional premature deaths that would later occur among young people who would have started smoking in the absence of these policies.

“In addition to some 7.4 million lives saved, the tobacco control policies we examined can lead to other health benefits such as fewer adverse birth outcomes related to maternal smoking, including low birth weight, and reduced health-care costs and less loss of productivity due to less smoking-related disease,” Levy said.

If these high-impact tobacco control measures were implemented even more widely, millions more smoking-related deaths would be averted, said Dr Douglas Bettcher, director of the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases at WHO.

“Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in the world, with six million smoking-attributable deaths per year today and these deaths are projected to rise to eight million a year by 2030, if current trends continue,” Bettcher said. “By taking the right measures, this tobacco epidemic can be entirely prevented.”

The WHO FCTC was developed in response to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic. Since the WHO FCTC came into force in 2005, 175 countries and the European Union have become parties to it. It is the most rapidly and widely embraced treaty in United Nations history, covering almost 90% of the world’s population.

Also in this month’s issue:

  • Global health and the BRICS (Brazil, Russian Federation, India, China and South Africa)
  • Maternal and child health in the post-2015 agenda
  • Technology transfer for hearing aids
  • Interview: transparency in clinical trials
  • Patterns of development aid for health in Africa
  • Getting iodized salt to children in India
  • The global burden of congenital toxoplasmosis estimated
  • Tobacco-control policies projected to avert millions of deaths

The Bulletin of the World Health Organization is one of the world’s leading public health journals. It is the flagship periodical of WHO, with a special focus on developing countries. Articles are peer-reviewed and are independent of WHO guidelines. Abstracts are now available in the six official languages of the United Nations.

The July issue table of contents can be found at: http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/91/7/en/index.html

The complete contents of the Bulletin, since 1948, is available free to all readers worldwide through PubMed Central, available at: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/tocrender.fcgi?journal=522&action=archive

For further information please contact:

Fiona Fleck
News Editor
Bulletin of the World Health Organization
Geneva, Switzerland
Office: +41 22 791 1897
Email: fleckf@who.int

Professor David T. Levy
Research Professor Cancer Control
Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center
Georgetown University Medical Center
Washington DC, USA
Tel: +1 202-687-0863
Mobile: +1 240-506-8923
E-mail: dl777@georgetown.edu

Karen Mallet, Communications
Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center
Georgetown University Medical Center
Mobile: +1 215 514 9751
E-mail: km463@georgetown.edu

Dr Douglas Bettcher
Director of the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases
World Health Organization
Geneva, Switzerland
Tel: +41 22 791 4253
E-mail: bettcherd@who.int