Fewer smokers, says WHO

Henry

The number of adult tobacco users is falling, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday, but warns that Big Tobacco Companies are working hard to attract young people.

In 2022, one in five adults worldwide smoked or used other tobacco products, compared with one in three in 2000, the UN health agency said.

A new WHO report on the prevalence of tobacco use between 2000 and 2030 shows that 150 countries are successfully reducing tobacco use through regulations, higher taxes and other measures.

However, it warns that the tobacco industry is stepping up efforts to undermine this progress, including “systematic efforts to attract children with their highly addictive products”.

“They are resorting to what I would call criminal attempts,” Ruediger Krech, director of the WHO’s Department of Health Promotion, told reporters in Geneva. “They kill people and they still do everything in their power to undermine countries’ very good efforts.”

Tobacco use is still estimated to cause more than 8 million people’s deaths per year, including around 1.3 million non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke, WHO statistics show. The WHO warns that, although smoking numbers are decreasing, it will take decades for the number of tobacco-related deaths to follow.

The WHO says that although the number of smokers is slowly decreasing, the world will miss its target of a 30% decrease in tobacco use between 2010 and 2025. However, a total of 56 countries worldwide are expected to meet this target, including Brazil, where tobacco use has already decreased by 35% since 2010.

In six countries, tobacco use has increased since 2010, namely the Republic of Congo, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Moldova and Oman.

Overall, tobacco use worldwide will decrease by a quarter over the 15-year period to 2025, according to the report.

“Good progress has been made, but there is no time for backsliding,” added Krech. “I am amazed at how far the tobacco industry will go to pursue profit at the expense of countless lives. The moment a government thinks they have won the battle against tobacco, the tobacco industry uses the opportunity to manipulate health policies and sell their deadly products.”

He also referred to the industry’s promotion of e-cigarettes, vaping and other smokeless products.

Although tobacco companies maintain that they do not target young people, Krech says the products are offered in “thousands of flavors and most of them are appealing to children, like vanilla ice cream or Gummy Bears”.

The WHO warns all countries to maintain and strengthen policies to “resist interference by the tobacco industry”.

According to the report, around 10% of 13- to 15-year-olds worldwide use one or more types of tobacco. This equates to at least 37 million teenagers, including at least 12 million who use new smokeless tobacco products. The report emphasizes that these numbers are an underestimate, as more than 70 countries did not provide any data.