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New Study Finds 20 Million Fewer Adults Use Tobacco Thanks to Global Action

Statement of Mark Hurley, Director of Global Communications, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
October 17, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new study shows remarkable progress in reducing tobacco use in low- and middle-income countries where tobacco causes the most harm. The study finds 20 million fewer adults across 11 countries used tobacco in 2017 compared to 2008 thanks to strong government action to end the tobacco epidemic. Seventy percent of the world’s tobacco users live in low- and middle-income countries. Governments should be encouraged by this extraordinary progress to continue to implement policies widely known and proven to reduce tobacco use - the world’s leading cause of preventable death.

The study, published today in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, also shows a dramatic decline in secondhand smoke exposure. Between 2008 and 2017, over 53 million fewer adults were exposed to secondhand smoke in indoor public places such as restaurants, government buildings and healthcare facilities. Secondhand smoke exposure causes lung cancer, heart disease, asthma and bronchitis even in people who do not smoke.

Other promising findings in the study indicate that more than 12 million adult tobacco users in the countries studied were considering quitting because of graphic warning labels on tobacco products, and that close to 100 million fewer adults were exposed to tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorships.

This dramatic progress is the result of countries’ commitment to evidence-based policies to reduce tobacco use such as those mandated by the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a public health treaty that 181 parties, including all of the countries included in today’s study, have signed on to. Virtually all of these policies have been passed in spite of fierce pushback from tobacco companies. In Uruguay for example, Philip Morris International challenged the country’s tobacco control regulations in a World Bank tribunal. Philip Morris lost the challenge in dramatic fashion and demonstrated that countries have the legal right to pass policies necessary to reduce tobacco use.

Around the world, tobacco companies and their deadly marketing tactics remain the single greatest obstacle to curbing the global tobacco epidemic that kills eight million people each year. They continually find new ways to market cigarettes and other nicotine products to young people, fight life-saving tobacco control policies, and promote products such as e-cigarettes and heated cigarettes with unproven health claims. The world’s biggest tobacco companies would have us believe that they desire a healthier world even while they continue to introduce and heavily market cigarettes and their e-cigarettes are being linked to explosions in nicotine addiction among youth. Governments cannot let these products undermine progress on tobacco control, especially among kids. In the United States, a lack of regulation has led to a dramatic increase in youth use of e-cigarettes with 1 in 4 U.S. high school students using e-cigarettes.

The remarkable progress in reducing tobacco use shown in today’s study is a dramatic affirmation that evidence-based policies can and have protected millions of people from the deadly harms of tobacco use. Governments must now continue this life-saving progress to protect youth and future generations from the harms of tobacco, including proactively regulating e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products. Without urgent action, tobacco will kill one billion people this century.