Big Tobacco is Increasingly Targeting the Most Vulnerable to Boost Profits

This is simply exploitation of the vulnerable for profit, using arguably the most dangerous consumer products (cigarettes) ever made no less.

The sixth edition of The Tobacco Atlas and its companion website finds the tobacco industry is increasingly targeting vulnerable populations in emerging markets, such as Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, where people are not protected by strong tobacco control regulations. The report was released at the 17th World Congress on Tobacco OR Health in Cape Town, South Africa.

The Atlas, which is co-authored by American Cancer Society (ACS) and Vital Strategies, graphically details the scale of the tobacco epidemic around the globe. It shows where progress has been made in tobacco control, and describes the latest products and tactics being deployed by the tobacco industry to grow its profits and delay or derail tobacco control efforts. In response to an evolving tobacco control landscape, the Sixth Edition includes new chapters on regulating novel products, partnerships, tobacco industry tactics and countering the industry.

In 2016 alone, tobacco use caused over 7.1 million deaths worldwide (5.1 million in men, 2.0 million in women). Most of these deaths were attributable to cigarette smoking, while 884,000 were related to secondhand smoke. The increase in tobacco-related disease and death has been outpaced by the increase in industry profits. The combined profits of the world’s biggest tobacco companies exceeded US $62.27 billion in 2015, the last year on record for all the major companies. This is equivalent to US $9,730 for the death of each smoker, an increase of 39% since the last Atlas was published, when the figure stood at US$7,000.

“Every death from tobacco is preventable, and every government has the power reduce the human and economic toll of the tobacco epidemic,” said Jeffrey Drope, PhD, co-editor and author of The Atlas and Vice President, Economic and Health Policy Research at the American Cancer Society. “It starts by resisting the influence of the industry and implementing proven tobacco control policies. The Atlas shows that progress is possible in every region of the world. African countries in particular are at a critical point — both because they are targets of the industry but also because many have opportunity to strengthen policies and act before smoking is at epidemic levels.”

“Tobacco causes harm at every stage of its life cycle, from cultivation to disposal,” said Dr. Neil Schluger, Vital Strategies’ Senior Advisor for Science and co-editor and author of The Atlas. “It is linked to an ever-increasing list of diseases, burdens health systems, and exacerbates poverty, especially when a breadwinner falls ill and dies from tobacco use. At a conservative estimate, there are more than 7 million tobacco-related deaths and global economic costs of two trillion dollars (PPP) each year, not including costs such as those caused by second-hand smoke and the environmental and health damages of tobacco farming. The only way to avert this harm is for all governments to vigorously implement the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and to enforce the proven strategies that reduce tobacco use.”

Tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke costs the global economy more than two trillion dollars (PPP) every year — equivalent to almost 2% of the world’s total economic output. More than 1.1 billion people are current smokers, while 360 million people use smokeless tobacco. Low and middle income countries represent over 80% of tobacco users and tobacco-related deaths, placing an increased share of tobacco-related costs on those who can least afford it. A growing proportion of that burden will fall on countries across Africa in the future, if governments do not implement tobacco control policies now to prevent it.


“The ultimate path to improved tobacco control is political will,” said José Luis Castro, President and CEO, Vital Strategies. “Strong tobacco control policies deliver a significant return on investment, and The Tobacco Atlas offers the best and most recent data on the tobacco epidemic as a resource for governments to pursue effective strategies. The answer does not lie with the industry: as The Atlas makes clear, there is a complete disconnect between the tobacco industry’s claims about harm reduction and its actual work to grow tobacco use among vulnerable populations. Governments must be accountable to their citizens in reducing tobacco use and improving health. They must prepare to rebuff the tobacco industry’s challenges to legislation, seek the appropriate assistance to build capacity, and be transparent about the industry’s inevitable approaches. We urge governments, advocates, organizations and people who care about health, the environment and development to stand together to reduce this man-made epidemic in pursuit of a healthier planet.”

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