Saturday, August 18, 2018
Health

Smoking costs the world economy $1 trillion per year, World Health Organization says

Smoking and its side effects cost the world's economies more than $1 trillion and kill about 6 million people each year — with deaths expected to rise by more than a third by 2030, according to a new report from the World Health Organization and the National Cancer Institute.

Those losses exceed annual global revenue from tobacco taxes, estimated to be $269 billion in 2013-14, according to the report released Tuesday. Of that, less than $1 billion was invested in tobacco control.

The massive study called smoking one of the largest causes of preventable premature death in the world. And unless countries around the world begin putting more tobacco control policies in place, it warned, the ballooning consequences will become not just a global public health issue but an economic issue.

"The tobacco industry produces and markets products that kill millions of people prematurely, rob households of finances that could have been used for food and education, and impose immense health care costs on families, communities and countries," Oleg Chestnov, WHO's assistant director-general for noncommunicable diseases and mental health, said in a statement.

More than 60 authors — physicians, public health experts, researchers and other scientists — contributed to the report, which was peer-reviewed by more than 70 reviewers.

Most of those who suffer health problems from tobacco use live in developing countries, according to the report. With 80 percent of the world's 1.1 billion smokers living in low- and middle-income countries, the poor are disproportionately burdened by tobacco use, the report said.

To save lives, WHO recommended that countries adopt policies to control tobacco use, including taxing and raising the price of cigarettes, restricting marketing efforts.

Experts noted some of the strongest resistance to tobacco control policies have come from governments, who fear — whether genuinely or because of pressure from lobbyists — that limiting tobacco will hurt the economy.

The tobacco industry "will scare you that tobacco-control measures are anti-poor when in fact it's the overwhelming evidence is actually the opposite," Jeremiah Paul of the WHO's Tobacco Control Economics Unit said during a telephone call with reporters Tuesday.

Because of technological innovations and the shift from state-owned to private tobacco companies, the number of jobs that depend on tobacco has been falling in most countries, the report said.

"For the vast majority of countries, implementation of tobacco control measures will have only a modest impact on tobacco-related employment, and will not lead to net job losses," it read.

Press offices for major tobacco companies and American tobacco lobbyists did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday morning.

The National Association of Tobacco Outlets, which advocates for businesses that sell tobacco products, said in an email to the Post it "does not have a comment at this time."

In the United States, the smoking rate has declined to an all-time low of 15.1 percent — but cigarette smoking remains the "leading cause of preventable disease and death," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Men are more likely to be smokers than women.

Still, the United States could be doing better, according to Frank Chaloupka, an economics and public health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Chaloupka, who contributed to the report as one of its scientific editors, told reporters that the United States is one of about a dozen countries that has not yet ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, adopted by the assembly in 2003.

"We have had some tax increases," Chaloupka said Tuesday," but taxes still account for far less than 50 percent of the retail price of (tobacco products) on average."

The country also lags behind on efforts to put more graphic warning labels and has weak limits on tobacco marketing, compared to other countries, the report noted.

"I wish that the U.S. was doing better than we're doing," Chaloupka said.

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