Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI)

Why tobacco is a public health priority

Tobacco use kills more than 5 million people per year. It is responsible for 1 in 10 adult deaths. Among the five greatest risk factors for mortality, it is the single most preventable cause of death. Eleven per cent of deaths from ischaemic heart disease, the world's leading killer, are attributable to tobacco use. More than 70% of deaths from lung, trachea and bronchus cancers are attributable to tobacco use. If current patterns continue, tobacco use will kill more than 8 million people per year by 2030. Up to half of the world's more than 1 billion smokers will die prematurely of a tobacco-related disease.

The economic costs of tobacco use are equally devastating. In addition to the high public health costs of treating tobacco-related diseases, tobacco users are also less productive due to increased sickness, and those who die prematurely deprive their families of much-needed income.

Tobacco use and poverty are inextricably linked. Many studies have shown that in the poorest households in some low- and middle-income countries, more than 10% of total household expenditure is on tobacco. This means that these families have less money to spend on such basic items as food, education and health care. In addition to its direct health effects, tobacco use leads to increased health-care costs. It contributes to higher malnutrition and illiteracy rates, since money that could have been used for food and education is spent on tobacco. The role of tobacco use in exacerbating poverty and hindering economic development needs to be fully recognized.

There are many cost-effective tobacco control measures that can be used in different settings and have a significant impact on tobacco consumption. The most cost-effective strategies are population-wide public policies, like bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products; tobacco tax and price increases; forbidding smoking in all public and workplaces; and requiring large, clear and visible graphic health messages on tobacco packaging. All of these measures are outlined in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Contact Information

Tobacco Free Initiative
WHO/Noncommunicable Disease and Mental Health
20 Avenue Appia
1211 Geneva 27
Telephone: +41 22 791 4426
Fax: + 41 22 791 4832