It is still the number one preventable cause of death. Across the globe, one person dies every four seconds in the world because of cigarettes, or 15 every minute. As World No Tobacco Day is celebrated this Wednesday, May 30 by the WHO, here are some things to know about this addiction that crosses borders.
Out of a population of 8 billion people, smokers are estimated at more than one billion by the World Health Organization (WHO) and The Tobacco Atlas. Each year, they smoke more than 5,000 billion cigarettes, according to The Tobacco Atlas, the tobacco information center of the American NGO Vital Strategies and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
But thanks to state anti-smoking measures, including tax increases, and in the face of the recent emergence of electronic cigarettes, the proportion of smokers has been declining overall for several years. A third of the world's population over the age of 15 smoked in 2000, this proportion has now fallen to nearly 20%.
The most populous country in the world, China is also the country with the highest number of smokers. The country of 1.4 billion people has nearly 300 million smokers (2020 WHO figure).
Indonesia is the country with the highest proportion of male smokers: 62.7% of those over the age of 15. Cigarettes are a scourge that now mainly affects poor countries: 80% of smokers live in low- and middle-income countries. In Africa and the Middle East, smoking is declining little and in some cases is increasing, as in Egypt, Lebanon or Iraq.
Active or passive smoking killed nearly 9 million people in 2019. Cancers, in particular of the lung, infarction, stroke and respiratory disorders such as COPD are the main diseases associated with tobacco. In the 20th century, tobacco caused 100 million victims, more than the 60 to 80 million dead of the Second World War combined with the 18 million dead of the war of 14-18.
If cigarettes are dangerous for health, they are just as dangerous for the planet. The production and consumption of tobacco emit 84 million tonnes of CO2 per year, equivalent to one fifth of the pollution from commercial aircraft (WHO figure). Nearly one million tonnes of cigarette butts are thrown away annually, with their non-biodegradable cellulose acetate filters. Growing tobacco requires 22 billion tons of water each year and its industry produces 25 million tons of solid waste.
Despite the gradual decline in tobacco consumption observed since 2012, the world of tobacco companies is far from in decline. In rich countries, this powerful industry has diversified into alternative products, primarily electronic cigarettes. In middle- and low-income countries, the tobacco majors continue their "aggressive" price policy and spend huge amounts of money to fight anti-smoking measures.
Two American economic analysis offices anticipate over the next five to eight years, an annual increase of around 2.5% in the overall turnover of the sector which would weigh 940 billion dollars in 2023.