How many people do you think will be killed by smoking-related illnesses by the end of the Twenty First Century? Well, you may be surprised to learn that according to the World Health Organisation the number could be as high as 1 billion. That is an astonishing figure by anyone’s accounts, but its severity is probably better underlined if you consider that the total number of military and civilian casualties in the two World Wars of the Twentieth Century was estimated at just under 38 million. So smoking will kill nearly 26 times as many people as those major conflicts.
According to the WHO the statistics for the Twentieth Century were bad enough, but the growth in the number of casualties from smoking-related illnesses shows no signs of slowing down. Although more and more people in the Western world are now aware of the dangers of tobacco smoke and are quitting the habit in favour of safer therapies like nicotine replacement and the electronic cigarette, the number of smokers in the third world, particularly the Far East and Sub-Saharan Africa is continuing to increase dramatically. The numbers starting to smoke in these parts of the planet far outweighs the numbers quitting in the West. The WHO lays the bale squarely on a lack of education about the dangers of smoking and the tobacco industry which is increasingly aiming its marketing focus on the vulnerable in these areas.
Although the WHO’s figures are based on information from 2008, they are, never the less, both shocking and sobering. 5.4 million people die each year from lung cancer, heart disease or other illness directly linked to tobacco use. That equates to one death every six seconds. Smoking killed 100 million people during the Twentieth Century, yet the figures suggest that the yearly death toll could pass 8 million by as soon as 2030. 80 percent of those deaths will be in the developing world, where tobacco use is growing most rapidly. According to the report, nearly two thirds of the world’s smokers live in 10 countries — China, India, Japan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the U.S., Brazil, Germany Russia, and Turkey. China alone accounts for nearly 30% of all smokers worldwide, whilst the African continent accounts for just over 20 percent. Currently, only 5% of the world’s population lives in countries, predominately in Western Europe, that have any antismoking policies in place.
The 369-page WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2008, called on governments to adhere to six tobacco control policies it calls MPOWER: monitor tobacco use, protect people from second-hand smoke, offer help to people who want to quit, warn about the risks of smoking, enforce bans on cigarette advertising, and raise tobacco taxes. The report also broke down tobacco consumption and prevention efforts country by country. WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, claimed the report was the most comprehensive study of its kind at a global level to date.
Dr Chan hoped that the collected data would help countries around the world to begin implementing anti-tobacco policies, like smoking bans, aggressive anti-tobacco campaigns, the advocacy of safer smoking therapies like electronic cigarettes and nicotine patches to wean people of the habit, and massive tobacco tax hikes.