WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, 2011: warning about the dangers of tobacco
Question: What is the state of the global tobacco epidemic since WHO issued its last report in 2009?
Answer: The big picture is unchanged. The tobacco epidemic still kills nearly 6 million people each year. More than 5 million of them are users or ex users of tobacco and more than 600,000 are nonsmokers who die from exposure to second-hand smoke.
If current trends persist, the epidemic could kill more than 8 million people by 2030, with 80% of the deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Having killed 100 million people during the 20th century, the epidemic could kill up to 1 billion during the 21st.
Question: Has the fight against tobacco progressed?
Answer: Yes. The tobacco industry is in retreat on many fronts. At the same time, it is seeking and exploiting new targets of opportunity, in particular women, young people and people in low- and middle-income countries in Africa, America and Asia. It needs new users to replace the up to half of current ones who will die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases.
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control demonstrates the world's commitment to decisive action against the global tobacco epidemic. In force since 2005, the WHO Framework Convention is our most powerful tobacco control tool and one of the most widely embraced treaties in the history of the United Nations.
To help countries fulfil their WHO FCTC obligations, in 2008 WHO introduced the MPOWER package of six evidence-based tobacco control measures that are proven to reduce tobacco use and save lives. Each of the six MPOWER measures is considered a "best" or "good" buy in tobacco control. The WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, 2011 provides comparable data for all WHO Member States on their level of achievement of these six selected measures.
As is frequently not the case with other leading public health problems, the means to curb tobacco use are within our reach. The WHO Framework Convention establishes standards that underpin and drive tobacco control throughout the world and reinforces the role and strength of international law as a tool to prevent disease and disability. The assistance provided for specific WHO Framework Convention demand-reduction measures through MPOWER supports countries as they work to reduce tobacco use and save lives.
The results presented in the report show that progress is possible and is being made. In some countries, this progress has been rapid and sweeping; these countries can serve as models for action by countries that still need to do more to protect their people.
As the report documents, there have been measurable gains since the 2009 version of the report. For example:
- More than 1 billion people in 19 countries are covered by laws requiring large, graphic health warnings on packages of tobacco, nearly double the number of two years ago, when only about 547 million people were covered in 16 countries. Mexico, Peru and the United States of America are the latest countries to require the large, graphic warnings, which are proven to motivate people to quit using tobacco and to reduce the appeal of the drug for people who are not yet addicted.
- More than 739 million people in 31 countries are covered by comprehensive smoke-free laws – a more than twofold improvement over the 2009 version of the report, which showed that more than 353 million people were covered in 15 countries. Burkina Faso, Nauru, Pakistan, Peru, Spain and Thailand are among the latest countries to ban smoking in indoor public and work places. All told, nearly 11% of people are protected by such laws, as compared with 5.1% in 2008.
- The number of people covered by at least one MPOWER measure newly applied at the highest level increased by 1.1 billion people to 3.8 billion. This means that more than half of the world's population is covered by at least one MPOWER measure.
- Twelve more countries have raised tobacco taxes to more than 75% of the retail price since 2008, bringing the total to 27 countries.
Still, it is sobering to reflect on how little progress was achieved in other areas and how much more remains to be done:
- Only three more countries – Chad, Colombia and Syria – banned tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
- Only one more country – Turkey – offered comprehensive help to quit.
- More than 89% of people remained unprotected by comprehensive smoke-free laws.
WHO and its Member States can and must do better.