Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI)

WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2009: questions and answers

Question: What is the state of the global tobacco epidemic since WHO issued its first report in 2008?

Answer: The big picture is unchanged and no less disturbing. Tobacco use still kills more than 5 million people per year, not even counting the 600,000 who die each year from exposure to second-hand smoke.

If current trends persist, tobacco use could kill more than 8 million people per year by 2030, with 80% of the deaths in low- and middle-income countries. The death toll for the 21st century could reach 1 billion.

Question: Has the fight against tobacco progressed in the last year?

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 commitment to decisive action against the global tobacco epidemic. Unlike many leading public health problems, the means to curb tobacco use are within our reach. With the WHO Framework Convention policies and the assistance provided for specific WHO Framework Convention demand reduction measures through MPOWER, countries have the tobacco control tools they need 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:

  • For example, 154 million people became newly protected from second-smoke by comprehensive smoke-free laws in 2008. All told, 5.4% of people are now covered by such laws, as opposed to 3.1% the previous year.
  • The number of people covered by at least one of the five measures in the MPOWER tobacco control package that are designed to reduce the demand for tobacco products rose by 400 million.
  • Five more countries required warnings on cigarette packages that meet the best-practice guidelines for Article 11 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, bringing the total to fifteen.
  • Six more countries increased taxes on tobacco to above 75% of pack retail price, the WHO-recommended best practice for tobacco taxation, bringing the total to 21 countries.
  • In addition, the number of Parties to the WHO Framework Convention increased to nearly 170 from less than 160.

Still, it is sobering to reflect on how little progress was achieved in other areas and how much more remains to be done:

  • Only one more country totally banned tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, bringing the total to 26.
  • More than 94% of people remained uncovered by comprehensive smoke-free laws.

WHO and its Member States can and must do better.