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Surveys in 22 Countries Underscore Scope of the Tobacco Epidemic and Urgent Need for Action

May 29, 2015


Tobacco use surveys conducted in low- and middle-income countries underscore the severity and scope of the global tobacco epidemic and should spur strong action by nations to reduce tobacco use and save lives.

The results of the Global Adult Tobacco Surveys (GATS) were published today in The GATS Atlas by the CDC Foundation, along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the World Lung Foundation.

The publication was released as we near World No Tobacco Day on May 31, which focuses attention on tobacco’s horrific global toll and the need for countries to accelerate implementation of proven measures to reduce tobacco use, as called for by an international public health treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. These measures include higher tobacco taxes; 100 percent smoke-free laws; bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and large, graphic health warnings. There are currently 180 parties to the treaty.

The GATS Atlas compiles information from surveys of adult tobacco use in 22 low- and middle-income countries, representing 60 percent of the world’s population. Key findings include:

  • Rates of tobacco use are exceedingly high in some low- and middle-income countries. The male smoking rate is over 40 percent in 11 of the countries studied, peaking at 67 percent in Indonesia.
  • While women generally use tobacco at lower rates than men, tobacco use rates among women are at least 20 percent in six countries. Among the countries surveyed, women smoke at the highest rates in Greece, Poland and Russia and have high rates of smokeless tobacco use in Bangladesh and India.
  • 1.2 billion adults in these countries are exposed to secondhand smoke in public places. China has the smokiest workplaces, with a quarter of a billion workers exposed to secondhand smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke in public places was lowest in Uruguay, the only country that had prohibited smoking in all public places at the time of the survey.
  • The majority of the world’s population lives in countries with affordable cigarette prices due to low cigarette taxes, underscoring the need to increase cigarette taxes.
  • The average age of tobacco use initiation across the countries studied is under 20 years, with an average age under 18 in many countries.

The Atlas also shows that countries like Turkey have dramatically reduced tobacco use by implementing strong tobacco control policies.

The good news, as we mark World No Tobacco Day, is that a growing number of countries are implementing the strategies proven to reduce tobacco use:

  • More than 86 countries require pictorial health warnings on tobacco packs;
  • 44 countries have enacted 100 percent smoke-free policies for all indoor public places and workplaces;
  • 29 countries have completely banned tobacco advertising; and
  • 32 countries have raised tobacco taxes to meet the global standard set by the WHO.

Practically every week brings news about exciting progress: On June 1, Beijing will implement a law making all public places, workplaces and public transportation smoke-free and banning most forms of tobacco advertising.

Without urgent action, tobacco will kill one billion people worldwide this century. The GATS Atlas illustrates the need for countries to enact and implement the proven solutions that can reverse this epidemic and save hundreds of millions of lives.