In the eve of World No Tabacco Day, the World Health Organization said that stamping out tobacco use can save millions of lives.

The institution showed for the first time the ways in which tobacco affects well-being from an environmental perspective, affected by production, distribution, and waste. The United Nations health chief’s report addressed the eve of World No Tobacco Day marked annually on May 31, to explain the threats tobacco poses to global development worldwide.

Cigarette Butts
WHO says tobacco use kills an estimated seven million people each year. Image credit: The Blaze.

World No Tabacco Day will focus on how tobacco affects people, the environment, and the economy

WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, said that tobacco threatens us all and that it exacerbates poverty, reduces economic productivity, contributes to poor household food choices as well as pollutes indoor air.

WHO is calling on governments to reinforce or implement strong tobacco control measures, like banning tobacco advertising and marketing, promoting plain product packaging, raising taxes and making workplaces and indoor public places smoke-free.

Tobacco Farmer
A worker at a tobacco farm in Zimbabwe. Image credit: Aaron Ufumeli.

“Many governments are taking action against tobacco, from banning advertising and marketing to introducing plain packaging for tobacco products, and smoke-free work and public places,” said Dr. Oleg Chestnov, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health.

For the first time, WHO published a report linking the impact of tobacco on the environment, pointing out that tobacco waste contains around 7,000 toxic chemicals that poison and affect the environment. These toxic chemicals also affect people since smoke emissions contribute to thousands of tons of human carcinogens, toxicants, and greenhouse gases.

The report also highlights that tobacco is the largest type of litter by count globally. Up to 10 billion of the 15 billion cigarettes sold daily are discarded in the environment, with cigarette butts accounting for 30 to 40 percent of items collected in coastal and urban clean-ups.

“But by taking robust tobacco control measures, governments can safeguard their countries’ futures by protecting tobacco users and non-users from these deadly products, generating revenues to fund health and other social services, and saving their environments from the ravages tobacco causes,” added Dr. Chan.

Tobacco kills more than seven million people each year

The report said that an estimated 1.5 billion hectares of -mainly tropical- forests have been lost around the world since the 1970s, contributing to up to 20 percent of annual greenhouse gas increases. This had led to deforestation and biodiversity loss, which has affected countries such as Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Ghana, Honduras, Kenya, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, to name some.

The impact of tobacco cultivation since the mid-1970s is of great concern, as there is evidence of substantial and irreversible loss of trees and other plant species.

Standardized Cigarette Package
A set of standardized cigarette packages. Image credit: The European Commission.

Manufacturing and transporting tobacco also has a major impact on the environment. In 1995, a group of researchers determined the annual global environment costs of tobacco manufacturing included over 2 million metric tons of solid waste, 300,000 metric tons of nicotine-contaminated water, as well as 200,000 metric tons of chemical waste.

According to WHO, tobacco use kills more than seven million people annually and it costs around $1.4 trillion in healthcare expenditure and lost productivity. Every country in the world has committed to eradicating poverty through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes implementing WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

By 2030, the convention expects to cut premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) by one-third, including those which are tobacco-related, such as heart and lung diseases, cancer and diabetes. Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO’s Department for the Prevention on NCDs, said that tobacco is a major barrier to global development.

WHO stressed that governments need to raise fees on cigarettes

WHO’s report points out that around 860 million adult smokers live in low- and middle-income countries. Several studies have found that in the poorest households, in many cases tobacco spending represents more than 10 percent of total household expenditure, which leads to less money for food, education, and healthcare.

Tobacco farming inhibits education, as between 10 and 14 percent of children from tobacco-growing families miss school or don’t attend at all to work in tobacco fields.

The report also highlights that tobacco contributes to 16 percent of all NCDs deaths. WHO noted that women make up for about 60 or 70 percent of tobacco farm workers, which puts them in close contact with often hazardous chemicals.

“Tobacco-related death and illness are drivers of poverty, leaving households without breadwinners, diverting limited household resources to purchase tobacco products rather than food and school materials, and forcing many people to pay for medical expenses,” said Dr. Bettcher.

When it comes to taxes, Dr. Chestnov stated that increasing tobacco tax prices is one of the least used, but most effective measures to help countries target development needs.

Governments around the world collect an estimated $270 billion in tobacco fees annually. However, the report noted that fees could be increased by over 50 percent, generating $141 billion more by globally raising cigarettes by 80 cents per pack.

Source: UN News Centre