News / Health

WHO: Global Tobacco Usage Leveling Off

A couple walk through an anti-tobacco installation set up by the Uruguay's Resources National Fund, depicting cigarettes' harmful components, in Montevideo, Uruguay (File)
A couple walk through an anti-tobacco installation set up by the Uruguay's Resources National Fund, depicting cigarettes' harmful components, in Montevideo, Uruguay (File)
Lisa Schlein

The World Health Organization says progress is being made in the fight against the widespread use of tobacco.  However, as it marks this year’s World No Tobacco Day May 31, WHO warns much work, remains to be done to reduce the millions of premature deaths that occur every year from tobacco-related illnesses.  

The Convention

The World Health Organization says there are indications the global use of tobacco is beginning to plateau and even decrease.  It attributes this success largely to the implementation of WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

The Convention, the first public health treaty ever adopted, entered into force in 2005.  So far, 173 countries have ratified it.

Watch a related report by Vidushi Sinha

The Head of the Convention Secretariat, Haik Nikogosian, says 80 percent of the parties either have adopted or strengthened legislation on tobacco control after joining the Convention. He calls this a very strong global achievement.

“I think we are winning the battle. Yes, this is a long battle.  It will take many, many years, but the tobacco epidemic, including in some countries where it was a big challenge, is starting to curb,” said Nikogosian.  “It will take a very long time. They are still taking millions of lives. But, the good news is that it seems that it is curbing.”  

Incremental successes since inception

WHO figures indicate a significant drop in the prevalence of smoking since enforcement of the Convention began six years ago.

For example, smoking in Australia, Norway and Mexico has dropped by five percent during this period.  An even more dramatic result is found in Uraguay, where smoking has declined from 46 percent to 31 percent over the past three years.  

Tobacco, one of the biggest contributors to non-communicable diseases


Nevertheless, Armando Peruga, WHO's Program Manager for Tobacco Free Initiative, says the public health effects of tobacco use are still devastating.

“This year, the tobacco epidemic will kill nearly six million people, including more than 600,000 non-smokers that will die from exposure to tobacco smoke,” said Peruga.  

By 2030, Dr. Peruga warns, tobacco could kill eight million people, of whom more than 80 percent will live in low and middle-income countries. “As you know, tobacco is one of the biggest contributors to the epidemic of non-communicable diseases, such as heart attack, stroke, cancer, emphysema, which accounts for about two-thirds of all deaths of NCD (non-communicable diseases) and about one in eight of the total deaths. That is about 13 percent,” he explained.  

WHO says the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics is becoming more aggressive as more people give up smoking. It says the industry is mainly targeting young people and women in poor countries.  

The Framework Convention contains a number of non-smoking measures countries are obliged to implement over time.  WHO officials say the most effective one is increasing tobacco taxes.  

Other measures include banning tobacco advertising and sales to minors, placing large health warnings on packages of tobacco and making public places smoke free.

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