Tobacco kills 7 million people a year, butts litter the world
Smoking and other tobacco use kills more than seven million people each year, the World Health Organisation said yesterday, also warning of the dire environmental impact of tobacco production, distribution and waste.
The United Nations agency said tougher measures were needed to rein in tobacco use, urging countries to ban smoking in the workplace and indoor public spaces, outlaw marketing of tobacco products and hike cigarette prices.
“Tobacco threatens us all. It exacerbates poverty, reduces economic productivity, contributes to poor household food choices and pollutes indoor air,” WHO chief Margaret Chan said.
In a report released ahead of World No Tobacco Day today, WHO said the annual death toll of seven million people had jumped from four million at the turn of the century, making tobacco the world’s single biggest cause of preventable deaths.
And the death toll is expected to keep rising, with WHO bracing for more than one billion deaths this century.
“By 2030, more than 80 percent of the deaths will occur in developing countries.”
Tobacco use also brings an economic cost: WHO estimates that it drains more than US$1.4 trillion (RM6 trillion) from households and governments each year in healthcare expenditures and lost productivity, or nearly two per cent of the global gross domestic product.
The report for the first time delved into the environmental impact of everything from tobacco production to the cigarette butts and other waste produced by smokers.
“From start to finish, the tobacco life cycle is an overwhelm- ingly polluting and damaging process,” WHO assistant director-general Oleg Chestnov said in the report.
This is largely due to the amount of wood needed for curing tobacco, with WHO estimating that one tree is needed for every 300 cigarettes produced.
WHO also highlighted the pollution generated during the production, transport and distribution of tobacco products.
The report estimates that the industry emits nearly four million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually — the same as around three million transatlantic flights.
And waste from the process contains over 7,000 toxic chemicals that poison the environment, including human carcinogens, WHO said.
Once in the hands of the consumer, cigarette butts and other tobacco waste make up the largest number of individual pieces of litter in the world, the agency said.
Two thirds of the 15 billion cigarettes sold each day were thrown on to the street or elsewhere in the environment, it said, adding that butts account for up to 40 per cent of all items collected in coastal and urban cleanups.
WHO says tobacco is the world’s single biggest cause of preventable deaths.