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Tobacco use declining across the world... but not fast enough

Jan 17, 2024 09:37 AM IST

The WHO report shows that 150 countries have been successful in reducing tobacco use, with India among the countries that have taken the most effective measures

New Delhi ​There has been an overall global decline in tobacco use over the last two decades with about one in five adults worldwide consuming it in 2022 compared to one in three in 2000, according to the estimates in the latest WHO (World Health Organisation) tobacco trends report released on Monday.

A man smokes a cigarette as he walks at the old bazaar in the city of Shahr-e Ray, south of Tehran, Iran on January 8. (AFP)
A man smokes a cigarette as he walks at the old bazaar in the city of Shahr-e Ray, south of Tehran, Iran on January 8. (AFP)

The report shows that 150 countries have been successful in reducing tobacco use, with India among the countries that have taken the most effective measures over the years to curb the practice.

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WHO, however, warned that tobacco-related deaths were expected to remain high for years to come, and that the world is set to miss its goal of a 30% drop in tobacco use between 2010 and 2025.

Tobacco use is still estimated to kill at least 8 million people each year, including an estimated 1.3 million non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke, said the report. To be sure, tobacco is not a banned substance in any country in the world but is sold with strong health advisories in most countries.

“Good progress has been made in tobacco control in recent years, but there is no time for complacency. I’m astounded at the depths the tobacco industry will go to pursue profits at the expense of countless lives. We see that the minute a government thinks they have won the fight against tobacco the tobacco industry seizes the opportunity to manipulate health policies and sell their deadly products,” said Ruediger Krech, director of WHO’s department of health promotion, in a statement.

The WHO South-East Asian Region has the highest percentage of population using tobacco at 26.5% with the European Region not far behind at 25.3%. The report shows that, by 2030, the WHO European Region is projected to have the highest rates globally with a prevalence of just over 23% while the use in South-East Asian Region will come down to 20%.

“While the numbers have steadily decreased over the years, the world will make it to a 25% relative reduction in tobacco use by 2025, missing the voluntary global goal of 30% reduction from the 2010 baseline. Only 56 countries globally will reach this goal, down four countries since the last report in 2021,” said the report.

WHO urged countries to continue putting in place tobacco control policies and continue to fight against interference from the tobacco industry.

“Country surveys consistently show that children aged 13-15 years in most countries are using tobacco and nicotine products. To protect the future generations and ensure that tobacco use continues to decline, WHO will dedicate this year’s World No Tobacco Day to Protecting children from tobacco industry interference,” said the UN health agency in the report.

A particular focus, it said, should be on gathering better data on tobacco use among adolescents, especially for newer “smokeless” products. The report said that on average, around 10% of 13- to 15-year-olds globally use one or more types of tobacco. That amounts to at least 37 million adolescents, including about 12 million who use new smokeless tobacco products.

The Newer smokeless tobacco products include the snus or dissolvable ones. Unlike traditional oral (smokeless) tobacco products (loose chewing tobacco or moist snuff), snus and dissolvable tobacco come in prepackaged portions and do not require users to expel saliva byproducts. In addition, snus and dissolvable products could appeal to youth because they are predominately marketed in flavours.

Meanwhile, six countries have seen tobacco use rise since 2010 -- the Republic of Congo, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Moldova and Oman.

“India has demonstrated a steely resolve to contain the menace of tobacco through a comprehensive control strategy that combines several demand and supply reduction measures. India, as a signatory to FCTC, is actively involved in combating the menace of tobacco with renewed fervour. From imposing a complete ban on E-cigarettes in September 2019, under the guise of preventing potential health risks to India’s youth, to bringing the new age OTT Platforms under the realms of ‘Films and TV Rules’ with the same intent, implementation of 85% pictorial health warnings, ban on gutka and other tobacco control policy measures, the Government of India has exhibited complete will in protecting the youth of our nation. But it is, needless to say, more efforts are needed to change the landscape of tobacco control in India,” said Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, chief executive, Voluntary Health Association of India.

“As envisioned a relative 30% reduction in the prevalence of current tobacco use is possible through concerted efforts in the right direction, the significance of those could be increasing taxes on tobacco products, strengthening tobacco control laws and ensuring its enforcement.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Rhythma Kaul works as an assistant editor at Hindustan Times. She covers health and related topics, including ministry of health and family welfare, government of India.

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