Currently, approximately one third of the global population over the age of 15 – about 1.1 billion people – smoke cigarettes. Tobacco use continues to be the leading preventable cause of death worldwide, killing at least five million people each year. Trends from illness and death related to tobacco use indicate that by 2030, tobacco use will contribute to the deaths of more than 10 million people worldwide each year, 70 percent of whom live in the developing world. Though various strategies are in place, including bans on smoking in public areas, restrictions on advertisements for tobacco products, and increased taxes on cigarettes, the number of people who use tobacco has not significantly decreased. A recently released report from the World Health Organization (WHO) details cigarette and smokeless tobacco consumption and seeks to find an approach that may lessen the use of these products.
The WHO report indicates that though 22 of the world’s most populous 100 cities are now “smoke-free,” this only accounts for 5.4 percent of the world’s population. In 2008, the WHO established a set of guidelines aimed at helping nations to reduce smoking, which include:
- Monitoring tobacco use and the policies to prevent it,
- Protecting people from tobacco smoke,
- Offering people help to quit using tobacco,
- Warning people about the dangers of tobacco,
- Enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, and
- Raising taxes on tobacco.
However, reports indicate that less than 10 percent of the world’s population is covered by any one of these measures. Additionally, only two percent of individuals live in nations that have comprehensive and widely-accepted smoke-free laws, and 94 percent are not protected by any laws against smoking.
Laws banning smoking – including the use of cigarettes, cigars, and hookahs – in public places will come into force in 2010 in many areas of the world. According the Syrian Society for Countering Cancer, 60 percent of adult men and 23 percent of women in Syria smoke, and 98 percent of Syrians are affected by second-hand smoke exposure. Other nations face similarly high rates of tobacco use and smoking-related illness and death. The high incidence of tobacco-related deaths in the Philippines (90,000 per year), Malaysia (10,000 per year), and Vietnam (40,000 per year) has caused concern in these regions, but fully effective smoking bans are not yet in place. Reports indicate that the majority of smokers in some Southeast Asian countries are men, and that as many as 75 percent of men smoke, compared to fewer than 20 percent of women who do. In Cambodia, for example, roughly half of the older women do use tobacco, but favor smokeless chewing tobacco, which many women begin during pregnancy to help lessen prenatal nausea.
Over the past four years, smoking rates have decreased in developed nations including the United States, Japan, and Western Europe as anti-smoking laws gain momentum. However, the World Lung Foundation (WLF) indicates that “More than 80 percent of those with premature deaths [from smoking] would occur in low- and middle-income countries.” Since 1960, according to the WLF, “the global production of tobacco has increased 300 percent in low- and middle-resource countries while dropping more than 50 percent in high-resource countries.” In China and India, over half a billion men consume tobacco, and other nations are facing similar problems of mass consumption of tobacco use. Tobacco is a contributing cause to heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, cancers and asthma worldwide, regardless of how it is consumed (smoked, chewed, etc.). According to Ala Alwan, the WHO non-communicable diseases expert, more than 80 percent of the WHO’s projected cancer deaths are likely to occur in the poorest regions of Africa. To increase awareness and provide education about the dangers of smoking, the WHO is planning to establish a regional hub there in 2010.
It remains to be seen how much impact the efforts of the WHO and other organizations will have with regard to decreasing the number of individuals who use tobacco. Through newly established laws, increased taxation, and outreach and education about the dangers of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products, it may be possible to urge individuals to quit smoking or not to start at all.