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WHO reports decline on tobacco use

Dec. 25, 2019 3 min read

MASERU – The World Health Organization (WHO) says the number of males using tobacco globally is on the decline, applauding government-led control efforts to protect health and save lives.

In a report released early December the organization projects that the number of males using tobacco is on the decline, indicating a powerful shift in the global tobacco epidemic.

The findings published in this new WHO report, demonstrate how government-led action can protect communities from tobacco, save lives and prevent people suffering tobacco-related harm.

“Declines in tobacco use amongst males mark a turning point in the fight against tobacco,” said WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“For many years now we had witnessed a steady rise in the number of males using deadly tobacco products. But now, for the first time, we are seeing a decline in male use, driven by governments being tougher on the tobacco industry. WHO will continue working closely with countries to maintain this downward trend,” he continued.

During nearly the past two decades, overall global tobacco use has fallen, from 1.397 billion in 2000 to 1.337 billion in 2018, or by approximately 60 million people, according to the WHO global report on trends in prevalence of tobacco use 2000-2025 third edition.

This has been largely driven by reductions in the number of females using these products (346 million in 2000 down to 244 million in 2018, or a fall over around 100 million).

Over the same period, male tobacco use had risen by around 40 million, from 1.050 billion in 2000 to 1.093 billion in 2018 (or 82 percent of the world’s current 1.337 billion tobacco users).

But positively, the new report shows that the number of male tobacco users has stopped growing and is projected to decline by more than 1 million fewer male users come  2020 (or 1.091 billion) compared to 2018 levels, and 5 million less by 2025 (1.087 billion).


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By 2020, WHO projects there will be 10 million fewer tobacco users, male and female, compared to 2018, and another 27 million less by 2025, amounting to 1.299 billion. Some 60 percent of countries have been experiencing a decline in tobacco use since 2010.

 “Reductions in global tobacco use demonstrate that when governments introduce and strengthen their comprehensive evidence-based actions, they can protect the well-being of their citizens and communities,” said Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO.

Despite such gains, progress in meeting the global target set by governments to cut tobacco use by 30 percent by 2025 remains off track. Based on current progress, a 23 percent reduction will be achieved by 2025. Only 32 countries are currently on track to reach the 30 percent reduction target.

However, the projected decline in tobacco use among males, who represent the overwhelming majority of tobacco users, can be built on and used to accelerate efforts to reach to the global target, said Dr Vinayak Prasad, head of WHO’s tobacco control unit.

“Fewer people are using tobacco, which is a major step for global public health,” said Dr Prasad. “But the work is not yet done. Without stepped up national action, the projected fall in tobacco use still won’t meet global reduction targets. We must never let up in the fight against Big Tobacco,” continued the Doctor.

Another key finding of the report included:

Children: Approximately 43 million children (aged 13-15) used tobacco in 2018 (14 million girls and 29 million boys).

Women: The number of women using tobacco in 2018 was 244 million. By 2025, there should be 32 million fewer women tobacco users. Most gains are being made in low- and middle-income countries. Europe is the region making the slowest progress in reducing tobacco use among females.

Other aspects of research on the global use of tobacco among men, smoking prevalence rates have been high in Sierra Leone (37.7 percent), Lesotho (34.1 percent), and Madagascar (28.5 percent); low (10 percent) in Ethiopia, Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, and Sao Tome and Principe; the prevalence of use was 10 percent in all countries except for Madagascar (24.7 percent) and Mozambique (10.9 percent).

Among women, smoking prevalence rates were 5 percent in most countries except for Burundi (9.9 percent), Sierra Leone (6 percent), and Namibia (5.9 percent), Madagascar (19.6 percent) and Lesotho (9.1 percent).

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