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Tobacco kills 7m, costs govts $1.4trn annually

By Chioma Obinna

The World Health Organisation, WHO, says  7 million people die of tobacco use annually even as governments lose US$1.4 trillion to healthcare expenditure due to tobacco-related diseases annually.

Disclosing these facts in its first-ever report entitled: “Tobacco and its environmental impact: an overview”, the Director General, WHO, Dr. Margaret Chan said action to stamp out tobacco use can help countries prevent millions of people falling ill and dying from tobacco-related disease.

Chan who highlighted how tobacco threatens the development of nations worldwide, called on governments to implement strong tobacco control measures.

She urged government to ban marketing and advertising of tobacco, promoting plain packaging of tobacco products, raising excise taxes, and making indoor public places and workplaces smoke-free.

“Tobacco threatens us all.  Tobacco exacerbates poverty, reduces economic productivity, contributes to poor household food choices, and pollutes indoor air.

“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,” she added.

The first-ever WHO report, “Tobacco and its environmental impact: an overview”, also showed the impact of the product on nature, including: tobacco waste which contains over 7000 toxic chemicals that poison the environment, including human carcinogens.

“Tobacco smoke emissions contribute thousands of tons of human carcinogens, toxicants, and greenhouse gases to the environment. And tobacco waste is the largest type of litter by count globally. Up to 10 billion of the 15 billion cigarettes sold daily are disposed in the environment.

Cigarette butts account for 30–40 percent of all items collected in coastal and urban clean-ups.

Speaking, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for NCDs and Mental Health, Dr Oleg Chestnov, noted that although many governments are taking action against tobacco the most effective control measures to help countries address development needs was through increasing tobacco tax and prices.”

“Governments collect nearly US$ 270 billion in tobacco excise tax revenues each year, but this could increase by over 50 percent, generating an additional US$ 141 billion, simply from raising taxes on cigarettes by just US$ 0.80 per pack (equivalent to one international dollar) in all countries. Increased tobacco taxation revenues will strengthen domestic resource mobilization, creating the fiscal space needed for countries to meet development priorities under the 2030 Agenda.

On his part, Director of WHO’s Department for the Prevention on NCDs, Dr Douglas Bettcher said: “Tobacco is a major barrier to development globally.  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.”


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